Tell me about your childhood … "We lived in the countryside in [Japan's] Nagano prefecture. My grandmother had an apple orchard; she also grew cherries, pears, plums and vegetables. I often went to the forest to pick wild mushrooms and vegetables and I loved eating them because I picked them. As I was growing up, I wanted to be creative, like a pastry chef."
How did your culinary career start? "At 19 I began working part-time in the kitchen of a small restaurant that cooked Western-influenced food. I found the job very interesting, making everything from scratch, even the desserts. That experience inspired me to learn more about French fine dining, but that meant going to Tokyo, which I did at 21. I found the city crowded and busy, and two years later went back to my hometown and started learning about Italian cuisine."
What other skills did you pick up? "I joined another restaurant to learn from a chef who had worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant. While his technique was good, he had a terrible temper, but I learned a lot. In the evenings, I went out to the dining room to serve guests and I became so interested in wines that I would buy two to three bottles a week to try. By 27, I got my sommelier licence in Japan.
"I also learned how to perfect my bread-making technique. I [later] worked for the Michelin-starred chef's friend whose restaurant was 60km from Tokyo. I spent five years there, in charge of wine. I worked in the kitchen from 5am to 11pm, making three kinds of bread every morning and preparing the mise en place. One year I went to France to learn bakery and pastry. I loved it. I applied to a few places [in France] but no one accepted me except one place that didn't have any Michelin stars. Their technique wasn't very good, but it made me realise I could do it better."
What was it like working for chef Seiji Yamamoto of the Michelin three-star Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo? "Chef Yamamoto is a nice person, obsessed with his food and work. Every Saturday we finished service around midnight, and we would eat our meal. Then we would shoot videos, like the ones you see on YouTube.
"His creations are incredible. I had never seen anything like that before, avant garde at the time, but now more traditional. Back then I was interested in learning new styles, modern techniques. This also meant I had to learn Japanese cuisine. I started to think about my identity - I am Japanese - I'm not French, my customers are not French."
What's it like to run your own restaurant? "Now at Ta Vie [which opened in June], I have to make every decision. But I love it - this is what I have always wanted to do. My menu has lots of vegetable and seafood combinations, like sweet corn and shrimp, asparagus and abalone, cauliflower and sea urchin. My food is very light, but when you drink more wine it makes the taste of the food stronger. That's why I ask the service staff what the customer is drinking so I can adjust the taste of the food, by adding more salt, butter or black pepper. I have never heard of other chefs who do this."
What are some of your favourite restaurants? "In Hong Kong, I like Neighborhood because I have a lot of respect for David Lai. His cuisine is the essence of French cuisine, which is very difficult for Asians to do. I also like Fish & Meat and Sushi Sase. Restaurant Andre [in Singapore] is my favourite restaurant in the world. The food there is so delicate, complicated and very tasty. And I, of course, respect chef Yamamoto of Nihonryori RyuGin."