Chef has to know every customers taste
By Kim Rahn
A chef needs to have the eye of a “detective” to grasp each customer’s taste, said Kwon O-joon, the chef at the Imperial Palace Hotel’s Japanese restaurant Man Yo.
The sushi master began working at the hotel in January after 17 years at highly recognized sushi restaurants in Japan.
He presents “kaiseki ryori,” traditional Japanese multi-course meals comprised of sushi, grill, tempura and soup, and “sushi kaiseki,” a multi-course meal comprised of only sushi and offered directly by the chef at the sushi counter. The number of courses and the menu depends on the season, ingredients, and most of all, each customer’s taste.
“Every customer has a different taste and appetite. I first ask customers what they like and dislike, and whether they like this fish or that fish. In this way, I detect their preference,” Kwon said.
As he provides sushi to customers one-to-one over the sushi counter for sushi kaiseki, he can directly see their reaction to the dish. “If a customer doesn’t like my offering, that’s my fault as I didn’t understand his or her preference. But if the customer revisits, I never repeat such a fault because I remember his or her palate.”
The 47-year-old chef stresses the importance of understanding customers and their needs, as he learned at Japanese restaurants that this is the secret to good service.
When he started learning to cook 18 years ago at a 108-year-old sushi restaurant Sushi Hatsu in Asakusa, Tokyo, he began cleaning toilets, washing dishes and serving customers as a waiter. “Chefs there said after I understand the customer’s position, I can satisfy them behind the sushi counter as a chef.”
After five years of hard training, he stood behind the counter. He learned how to make “edomade sushi” ― a style using fish caught in Tokyo Bay.
Then chefs there recommended Kwon move to Sushi Saito, a Michelin three-star restaurant, where he learned how to make sushi kaiseki. “I had to present 25 kinds of sushi one by one in the proper order. Throughout the whole course, Kaiseki has to satisfy three senses: it has to be beautiful to see, smell good, and please the palate,” he said.
Kwon was later scouted by Sushi Zanmai, which has a national chain of restaurants, and taught junior chefs for one year before coming back to Korea last December.
Fish and other ingredients used in Kwon’s dish come from Tsukiji, the largest fish market in Asia in Tokyo, which he visited every morning when working at Sushi Hatsu and learned how to select good fish. As the ingredients are air transported, a reservation must be made at least a day before dining.
“I hope customers will enjoy my sushi with their eyes, nose and tongue,” said the sushi master.