Kenji Fujimoto was accepted into Kim Jong-il's inner circle during a 13-year stint serving North Korea's first family. The Japanese sushi chef gives Julian Ryall his take on the communist dynasty'...
How long have you been in the caviar business? 'I've been in the trade since 1995 and my job is to find the best. We sell to some of the biggest and best hotels and chefs. I travel all over to find the top farms- to China, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Germany, [North] America, South America, even the Middle East. We don't really have wild caviar anymore. Just a little bit remains and, unfortunately, the situation will probably never go back to the way it was.'
What's the secret to good caviar? 'It's simple - or seems simple. First, you need clean and fresh cold water. Then you focus on quality. For example, we are the biggest buyers from a farm in Hangzhou [Zhejiang province]. Hangzhou's West Lake is bigger than all of Hong Kong and has some of the freshest water in the world. I helped the farm bring in people from Iran who have experience with wild caviar. We now produce caviar equal to the best in the world. The farm gives the sturgeon enough time to grow- it costs a lot to let them mature for eight to 10 years. They have the passion for it, so they wait. Many others just want to make fast money and kill the fish after six years.'
Is there any chance wild sturgeon will return in the Caspian Sea? 'The Russians and Iranians released baby sturgeon into the Caspian for 20 years, but they ultimately failed because they never believed the fish was going to disappear. Now it's too late. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the creation of a black market - and that's how the sturgeon were destroyed. Unfortunately, people usually only react when it's too late.'
What's the reasoning behind the hip packaging, such as the En-K de Caviar box that resembles a tin of mints? 'I want to open the market to other, maybe younger, customers. A 15-gram tin is more affordable. We've been selling caviar in round metal tins for what feels like forever. If you can carry around iPads, you can carry around caviar. The look is casual and sexy, designed for people on the go. But we're not only selling packaging: there's good oscietra caviar inside. The response has been good. Just a couple of weeks ago, a famous American rapper- I don't know who he is- said he saw it in a magazine and ordered 2,000 units. I think it was for a party.'
If I served you wild caviar and the best farmed stuff, would you be able to tell the difference? 'Yes. There's a difference in the taste and texture. I've been in the business for years, but 99 per cent of people probably couldn't tell the difference. I'd love to taste more wild caviar, but there is no more.'
You were based in Hong Kong around 1990. What did you learn about Asian demand for luxury? 'About 20 years ago, I realised people like nice things and that there is demand for such items here in Asia. At the moment, Europe is unstable, America is falling, but Asia is going up. I've had a chance to work here, in France and many countries. It's good to have an international cultural awareness, but many countries don't follow what's happening in other parts of the world. They think every- thing is happening in Europe or in America. That's really stupid.'
En-K de Caviar boxes are available at the Mira Hotel, 118 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2368 1111