Q and A with chef Jun Tanaka

What influenced you to be a chef and when did you realise that’s what you wanted to do?  
My mother is a fantastic cook and while growing up, the family dinner was the highlight of my day. I’ve always loved eating and even as a child, there was nothing I wouldn’t eat. Loving to eat so much and wanting to know how to cook was a completely natural progression and, with the advice of my father, I started my career at the age of 19.
Your restaurant The Ninth Restaurant is based on French-styled cuisine. Why did you decide to do a French menu and how do you add your own British touch to the food?   
When I started my career, I only wanted to work in Michelin star restaurants and 25 years ago, they were all predominantly French. Once I began my training in French cuisine, I fell in love with the techniques, recipes and seasonality of ingredients. So at The Ninth, we cook French-styled cuisine with Mediterranean influences. 
Since you have Japanese heritage, were you ever interested in putting in a Japanese style into your cuisine or experimenting with Japanese dishes?         
I grew up eating Japanese food so it’s very familiar to me but, I consciously made a decision not to introduce Japanese-style dishes at The Ninth as I am not a fan of fusion cooking.   
Do you think television appearances have shaped your confidence as a chef?        
I think cooking on TV gives you confidence in presenting and explaining recipes in a simple and relatable way. But the only way to gain confidence as a chef is hard work and training.
What is the most difficult aspect about being such a widely known chef?
I don’t think of myself as a “widely known” chef, but being a chef, I find that no one wants to cook for me! Or if they do, they’re super apologetic even before I sit down to eat. It’s a shame, because I actually love being cooked for! 
You say you believe anyone can learn to cook like on Cooking It. What advice do you have for aspiring chefs on how to improve their skills?
Be organised. When cooking a recipe from a cookbook, read it from start to finish and understand the recipe. Then make sure you have all the equipment you’re going to need and have all the ingredients laid out in front of you. Once you’ve done that, prepare all the ingredients and finally begin the cooking. By approaching the recipe this way, your focus is only on one stage of the process and this will make everything simpler – and the end result will definitely improve. 
You endeavoured to join the street food scene. It’s quite different from your traditional menu, why did you decide to take an interest in it?
Mark – my business partner – and I started our street food business seven years ago when British street food was only just beginning. At the time it was an innovative idea and we wanted to challenge ourselves to use our skills and knowledge of working in Michelin star restaurants and create the best takeaway dishes at street food prices. 
What is your favourite kind of street food?
Definitely Thai. I visit Bangkok every year and some of the best food you can eat there is out on the streets! 
Do you think the Michelin star rating of the restaurant is really important? 
It was never our goal to gain a star, as The Ninth is not your typical Michelin star restaurant. But, being awarded one has definitely been one of the highlights of my career and I’m happy for all the staff that have worked so hard over the past year. Now that we have one, it is essential that we maintain our standards and retain it. 
What about hole-in the-wall places or lesser known local establishments – do you think they have lesser value because they might not have that quality rating?
Not at all. In fact, some of my favourite restaurants in London (and elsewhere) don’t have a Michelin star. Michelin has a specific ratingsystem, and just because a restaurant doesn’t have a star doesn’t mean the food isn’t of a high standard. 
Working in Le Gavroche was your first job. Do you think working in a high-end restaurant shaped you and your style rather than starting off somewhere small?
Yes. It taught me discipline and respect for ingredients.
What kind of kitchen culture do you prefer – or is it professional only?
Throughout my training years I’ve worked in some hard and aggressive kitchens and this culture was definitely something I didn’t want at my restaurant. Before we opened the restaurant, I sat down with my head chef and restaurant manager and we all agreed that our number one priority is looking after the people who work there and create an environment where the staff are happy. 
Did you have any role models who inspired you in your career?
Eric Chavot. I was a sous chef at The Capital and he taught me the importance of flavour above all else. 


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