Interview with Chef Masato Nishihara of Kajitsu – New York, NY

August 2010

Emily Bell: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Masato Nishihara: When I was nine years old, I made a sunny-side up egg. It was the first time for me to cook. My mother praised me and I realized that cooking was fun.

EB: Did you go to culinary school?
MN: No, I didn’t. I cannot actually comment on it because I didn’t go to any culinary school. But in my opinion, going to a culinary school could be a good option to becoming a chef.

EB: Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary school background?
MN: When I hire a cook, I try to look for his/her passion toward cooking more than their technique. So I do not pay much attention to whether they went to a culinary school or not.

EB: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
MN: I would tell them not to forget their feeling when they decided to become a chef and always remember the moment when they felt inspiration toward cooking.

EB: Where do you draw inspiration?
MN: When I relax, I sometimes get a new idea for a new recipe. But also when I am very busy, some idea pops up in my head. I think that I need to be in lots of different situations in order to get inspiration. New York is definitely a place where I can get new ideas.

EB: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a chef? Facing your restaurant?
MN: The opening of Kajitsu, the first Shojin restaurant in New York, has been the biggest challenge for me.

EB: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
MN: At Kajitsu I have to create a new menu every month, which is the hardest thing for me. But it is also enjoyable.

EB: What does success mean for you?
MN: Success for me would be a situation where I can cook and serve dishes on the plates I myself made in the place I designed and make my guests happy.

EB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MN: Dining is an ultimate action; I live to eat and I eat to live.

EB: What goes into creating a dish?
MN: It is all my past experience.

EB: Ingredient that you feel is underappreciated?
MN: Nama-Fu.

EB: If you had one thing you could do over, what would it be?
MN: If I could go back to the age around 15, I would study English so hard that I would be able to speak the language better now.

EB: What’s next? Where will we find you in five years?
MN: Five years from now you will find me in a restaurant kitchen somewhere.