Tell us about Lumi. “‘Lumi’ comes from the French word ‘lumiere’, or ‘light’, as the menu is bright and fresh. It’s a culmination of my favourite dishes from working in several places around the world. I thought of 3,000 dishes for the menu and then whittled it down to 29, including desserts. These are the dishes I would like to eat over and over again.”

How did you start cooking? “I have been cooking for 50 years. When I was young, my family wasn’t well off – eating good food was considered special, so I was determined to learn how to cook, especially French cuisine, or anything French-related. I couldn’t go to France but, in 1969, when there was an oppor­tunity to cook at the Japanese embassy in Senegal, a former French colony [on Africa’s west coast], I decided to take the chance.”

Meet the Japanese chef bringing French cuisine to Tokyo

What was Senegal like? “I knew nothing about the country except that there were French restaurants there. When we got there, it was tough. Japan was still setting up its embassy, so we literally started from scratch. I was there for a year. It was so hot during the day, I was able to cook an egg on the car roof, so I stayed indoors most of the time. It was already 46 degrees Celsius in the morning. When you took a shower, even the water was hot.”

Where did you go afterwards? “In 1970, I went to Morocco, where they have many French culinary styles. I learned a lot more about French cuisine. In 1973, I went to Paris and worked for seven months at Maxim’s, which [at the time] had three Michelin stars. Then I worked for several French restaurants. Joël Robuchon [who died in August] was the best chef. I was Robuchon’s first Japanese apprentice and worked for him for 1½ years.”

What was working with the French chef like? “Robuchon’s style was not the same as other French chefs. He changed people’s perceptions of what French cuisine is. The dishes he created were a step ahead of everyone else. He worked on the present­a­­tion and the taste. He was constantly impro­ving the dish, even though it already tasted good. We Japanese are very detailed but he was even more so. That’s why I think he was No 1 in the world.”

When did you go back to Japan? “In 1975. I had met my Japanese wife in Morocco and we married in 1974. She went back to Japan and gave birth to our first child, my son. When I came back, a year later, I opened La Marée de Chaya in Hayama, a town in Kanagawa prefecture. I’m a fish specialist – my nickname is ‘fish man’ because I know which fish are good for salads, soups, mains. This was the start of creating borderless cuisine.”

What is borderless cuisine? “It’s hard to get the best ingredients consis­tently. So I wondered, are there other ingredients you can substitute? I started substituting Japanese vegetables and other ingredients and it tasted good. That’s why I call it borderless cuisine. With this experience I want to look at using Chinese ingredients.”

How has French cuisine changed over the years? “Before, it was very classic, but now there are new ingredi­ents and techniques. Also less cream and butter are used these days. If a dish is good but not healthy, people won’t eat it.”

You’ve written four cookbooks. Tell us about them? “My cookbooks have been translated into Chinese in Taiwan. I like to teach people how to cook at home. I hope I can teach others what I have learned. I have taught some 13,000 students in 30 years.”