Hubert Burda Media

Chef From the Heart

Down-to-earth and deeply rooted to tradition, Yuichi Kamimura is a Michelin-starred chef who took years to realise his true calling.

Having been in the food industry for over 15 years, chef Yuichi Kamimura not only runs an eponymous restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan — one of the city’s finest— but also travels through the world’s best kitchens, allowing his delicacies to reach a wider audience.
Surprisingly, though, this was never his dream job. Son of restaurateurs, a young Kamimura wanted more out of life. As such, he left home at the age of 18 for the US to study English and “to avoid being a chef”, enrolling in a community college in Washington, DC. Upon graduation, he worked for a year selling luggage in New York before returning to Japan in 1998, where he worked at his father’s restaurant for two years.
In a bid to try something new, Kamimura again left home. This time for Sydney where ironically he ended up taking a job in another kitchen — under the watchful eye of Japanese-born, Australian chef Tetsuya Wakuda of multi-award-winning Tetsuya’s.
Five years later, he returned to Japan to set up the 40-seater Kamimura restaurant, located in the luxury ski resort of Niseko, which focuses mainly on contemporary Japanese-French cuisine. In 2011, he received his first Michelin star and currently has plans to open a restaurant in Tokyo.
Scheduled to be in Singapore from July 1-5, the chef spoke with Prestige ahead of his visit.
Growing up, what did you want to be?
I did not have any ideal job in mind, but the one thing that I did not want to be was a chef. My parents run a restaurant where my father is the chef and my mother, the manager. I grew up watching them work very hard. There were no weekends or holidays and I was always in our kitchen washing the dishes during Christmas. Though I have no complaints, maybe that’s why I didn’t want to work at a restaurant.
When did you change your mind?
It was when master chef Tetsuya Wakuda picked me as his apprentice in Sydney. I wanted to do something new as a career so I went to Australia to work in import/export but I couldn’t find the job I wanted. I actually tried my best not to end up working in a Japanese restaurant but I was also running out of money. One day, when I was looking for a job in the newspapers, I saw an ad [for an apprentice chef at Tetsuya’s]. I sent in my resume and waited three days for a response, before I decided to visit his restaurant. Not knowing what I should do, I spent two to three hours standing outside his restaurant until I saw a Japanese man in a chef’s jacket come out. I ran up to him and explained my situation. That’s how I landed my job with him, and how I got serious about cooking.
What is the most enjoyable part of being a chef?
To be told by guests that they enjoyed my food is a great thing to hear and perhaps the only reason to do what I do.
When it comes to running your own place, what is your philosophy?
As a chef, it’s important that the food is good. But as a restaurateur, everything is important especially good hospitality. My philosophy has always been to make my restaurant better in all aspects and that hasn’t changed for a long time. If there are complaints, I will try to do something about them.
Any lessons learnt from observing your restaurateur parents?
My father used to wash dishes and clean the drains with his hands, which made me understand that all jobs are necessary. One day, my parents were arguing in the kitchen [just when guests arrived]. When my mum went out to welcome them, she wore a bright smile. I asked her how she could manage to appear happy and she said: “We can only manage our family because of these customers.” That’s how I learned to always put my customers’ needs before mine. I guess I have been educated to be a restaurateur from an early age.
What is your favourite food?
I like my mother’s fried chicken or simple Japanese food.
What do you do in your spare time?
Other than reading cooking books and thinking about how to make my restaurant better, I just like to chill.
Yuichi Kamimura will be in Singapore as a guest chef at Sofitel So Singapore’s Xperience Restaurant & Bar on July 1-5