Japanese chefs are jazzing up the Paris dining scene—no sushi or soy sauce in sight.
One of France’s food obsessions of late is whether la gastronomie française is in decline, eclipsed by the sexier, more innovative cooking coming out of Copenhagen, Spain, and even London. But another popular dinner-table conversation—one about the onslaught of Japanese chefs who are setting up high-end restaurants in Paris—suggests that the nation’s cuisine isn’t imperiled, it’s just evolving. For a group of talented young chefs from Japan, French food is not only relevant but also worth crossing continents to master and adapt. Parisians have welcomed the new guard’s gentle hybridization, which emphasizes seasonal, intellectually ambitious, delicately prepared, and mostly French food—with only a hint of a foreign accent.
There’s long been an affinity between French and Japanese cuisines—both ritualistic, both demanding. “For so many of us who got inspired by French food back in Japan, the only way to gain knowledge of real French products and philosophy was to come here,” says Ryuji Teshima, who opened Restaurant Pages last year near the Arc de Triomphe. Teshima obeys both his native and adopted cuisines’ edicts of strong and clear flavors, as in a deconstructed pot-au-feu with Wagyu beef, Limousin veal, pristine root vegetables, and citrus zest. Shinya Usami studied at the Cordon Bleu before opening Clover in December with Jean-François Piège, the chef behind the fashion hangout Brasserie Thoumieux. The quinoa chips with eggplant and black-sesame mousse speak to the chef’s Japanese roots—but Clover’s duck pithiviers is pure ancien régime. At the popular Abri, in the 10th Arrondissement, the food is mostly neo-bistro; Taillevent alumnus Katsuaki Okiyama’s most conspicuous nod to his place of birth is the tonkatsu sandwich, served at lunch on Mondays.
At Restaurant AT, chef Atsushi Tanaka creates bold dishes—such as shredded poached lobster with raw radishes and squid-ink bread crumbs—that merely flirt with Asian flavors. But the bite-size portions presented dramatically on stoneware subtly reveal the chef’s heritage.