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Chicago Shimpo
Chef Akama Strives to Go Abroad to Spread
Japanese Cuisine

Chef Hirohito Akama has devoted himself to promote Japanese cuisine to overseas and visited Chicago last October. While he works as a head chef in Akura restaurant in Osakaya Hiinano Yu in Wakayama Prefecture, he often goes abroad to give lectures, demonstrations, and make collaborations with local chefs to cook Japanese fusion dishes.
In Chicago, he gave lectures at the Kendall College, the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago, and local restaurants.

Last June, chef Akama collaborated with Italian chef Domenico Ottaviano at Trabucco Da Mimi in Peschici, Puglia, Italy. The restaurant is located next to a fishery Trabucco, and its owner family has kept their affection to the local food traditions, according to Akama.

Akama and Ottaviano served a special course of menu for a week. The Japanese-Italian fusion course was Nigiri Sushi Dello Chef Akama, Trabucco Okonomiyaki, Tempura Dashi Troccoli, Unadon Di Pane E Mosto Di Fichi, Zuppa Di Pesce Al Miso Rosso, and Panna Cotta Al Matcha Tea.

Akama remembered that the customers loved to see “katsuo bushi” (tuna flakes), which appeared to dance when he put the flakes on the top of okonomiyaki.
Their collaboration can be seen at YouTube:

After he finished the food event, he visited Torino culinary association to give lectures and demonstrations on Japanese-Italian fusion cooking, and received a medal from the association.

He also collaborated with Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi and served bento boxes and ramen noodles.

Those activities brought him an opportunity to write a book about Japanese cuisine, and it will be translated in Italian language and published in Italy.
Akama said, “I would like to write not only about recipes, but also what is washoku, Japanese cuisine, to promote understanding about it. The important things are not a matter of cooking techniques but its backgrounds such as food presentations, Japan’s climate, history, customs, and other factors.
He also said, “Japanese people traditionally have a custom to pay respect to a person who cooked their meals, their local-life grounds, their community, and etcetera. Japanese cuisine has been developed in such a circumstance. If you don’t pay respect for such things, you cannot be a good chef.” He has authored some books including “Joy of Wild Vegetable Cooking.”

Akama visited Salone del Gusto in Italy, Taiwan, and Indonesia last year and said, “My purpose to visit those countries was to introduce Japanese cuisine to ordinary people because it wouldn’t spread widely if you serve it only in expensive restaurants. I always exchange with local chefs with the purpose in my mind.”

An Event that Brought Akama Overseas

In 2014, Akama was asked to come with a team of local food makers, who were going to participate in Slow Food Festival in Torino.
The word of “Slow Food” came from a movement, which went against fast food, to preserve traditional Italian food culture when a McDonald restaurant opened in Spanish Square in Rome.
Nowadays Slow Food associations were organized in the world and even in Japan. If farmers clear certain healthy standards such as field soil and fertilizers, they are accepted as members. Slow Food Festival is held every other year, and big crowds come from many countries.

Local food makers in Wakayama decided to participate in the festival to introduce their own products such as cheese, sake, vinegar, and soy sauce although they were not members of Slow Food association. However, their products were not familiar with European people, so they needed to show how their products were used with local food.

Akama went the festival with them for a week. He woke up every morning at 5 a.m. and went to markets to buy ingredients. He improvised menus such as Piemonte beef sushi, pistachio tempura, and blue mussel miso soup and served them to visitors until 11 p.m.
It was the first experience for him to cook Japanese cuisine by using local ingredients, and his fusion style was well received by the visitors. It was very hard work for him to work such long hours, but it brought him many opportunities to meet people.
After the festival, an Italian chef came to his restaurant in Wakayama to see Japanese cuisine.

Akama answered a question if he had difficulties to collaborate with a chef, who had different taste favorites and cultural backgrounds.
He said, “We respect each other, and I don’t deny what he suggests. I listen to him and try to understand why he wants to cook in a certain way. So I can make a suggestion and work together. That’s why our collaboration is not so difficult.”

Akama also said, “Now washoku, Japanese cuisine, is a kind of trend in overseas, and I don’t want it to end just as a trend. I think that more Japanese chefs should go abroad to demonstrate Japanese cooking so that it becomes a part of local cooking in the world.” He is going to visit France, Taiwan, China, the U.S., and Italy next year.

Chef Hiroto Akama

He was born in Shimane Prefecture. His grandfather ran two Japanese restaurants, and his father integrated them as one. When he was a child, he asked his father if he had to become a chef, his father replied, “You don’t have to do such a hard job.” Since then, he had worked hard at playing baseball until he graduated from high school.
After pondering his career choice, he decided to work in a company and take an employment test, which gave him an opportunity to go to Osaka to have a job interview as one of the finalists.
When he informed his father that he was going to Osaka, his father passed him a brochure of the Tsuji Culinary School saying, “Why don’t you stop by there?”
Akama thought, “Oh, my! Dad wanted me to do that,” and enter the culinary school.
After graduating from the school, he worked in several restaurants for years and became a sous chef, next to the head chef. His mentor recommended him to take longer period of time to work as sous chef to experience the whole duty of a head chef, so that he could work easily when he became a head chef.
So he worked as a sous chef about eight years. When he became a head chef in a restaurant in Shikoku, he was involved with kitchen floor plans to entire restaurant management. Of course his experience greatly helped him.
Three years after the restaurant opening, he was head hunted by the current hotel owner.

Q: You are the head chef of Akura restaurant. How are you able to spend times overseas?

Akama: There is no problem because I trained my sous chef and his subordinates. If you want to groom young chefs, let them think about the best way to work, so that they feel their responsibilities. If I’m always with them, they would rely on me. They can do all their jobs without me.

Hirohito Akama and Domenico Ottaviano work together to serve
Japanese/Italian cuisine at Trabucco Da Mimi in Peschici, Puglia, Italy

Nigiri Sushi Dello Chef Akama

Unadon Di Pane E Mosto Di Fichi

Hirohito Akama and Domenico Ottaviano make a toast at
Trabucco Da Mimi in Peschici, Puglia, Italy