TAKUMI’S CHEF Daijiro Horikoshi is a master artisan who has devoted his life to perfecting Kaiseki cuisine.
Chef Daijiro San … with respect you don’t sound like any ‘normal’ kind of Chef to us … what’s your story and how did you end up in Bali? Did you train in a Japanese kitchen, and did it involve years of internship under a Master?
I am the son of the third generation of a tempura restaurant located in Osaka. The restaurant had a 62-year history before it closed. My grandmother started the restaurant, and my mom took over before I eventually took over from her. I ran the restaurant for over 16 years, and in 2012, I moved to Bali. When I was 13 years old, I had the opportunity to travel with my stepfather, who was a Native American leader from the United States named Dennis Banks. We travelled to 23 countries around the world, and this experience exposed me to different cultures, religions, and people. When I decided to move to Bali, it was because my wife had a dream of living on a tropical island. We wanted our children to have a global experience and learn English, so we chose Bali as it offered a mix of different cultures. It was the perfect balance for us, and we couldn’t find it anywhere else in the world.
Tell us first about KOHAKU, and your journey to making edible crystals…
Although I don’t have a pastry background, I grew up in a traditional Japanese environment due to my grandmother’s influence. She was a geisha and introduced me to various aspects of Japanese art, tradition, and confections. When I moved to Bali, I missed Japanese sweets, as they were not readily available, so I started making Japanese confections on my own. I never thought about turning it into a business until a friend suggested it. Together with another friend, we started the business, and my wife encouraged me to pursue it further. That’s how our Japanese confection brand, KOHAKU, came to be.
How does this relate to cuisine in Japan?
Kohakuto, which means ‘amber sugar’ in Japanese, has a connection to Japanese tea ceremonies. Japanese confectionery has always been closely associated with tea and tea ceremonies. The tea ceremony involves not only tea but also meals, and it holds a deep relationship with Japanese cuisine.
There are two types of kaiseki, one for parties and the other for tea ceremonies. Both have a connection with tea and confections. So, the idea of creating edible crystals relates to the long-standing tradition of Japanese traditions.
Why does Japanese cuisine appear so different and innovative to Westerners, compared to more traditional styles, like say classic French, or Italian? Should the Old School be more innovative?
I don’t see a big difference between Japanese cuisine and other traditional styles like French or Italian. Each cuisine reflects its own history, culture, and region. I don’t think one is more innovative than the other. It’s difficult to answer whether the old school should be more innovative because innovation is subjective. What may seem innovative today might become traditional in the future. As chefs, we are always learning and trying to create dishes that make people happy. We focus on making something good rather than just being innovative. Our job is an ongoing journey of learning and creating.
Where does innovation go too far, and when should we recognize and respect classic cooking practices?
From my perspective, innovation goes too far when it becomes disconnected from our everyday lives and focuses solely on being different for the sake of standing out. Some chefs get caught up in trying to show how they are different from others, losing sight of the true essence of cooking. It’s like we lose our direction and wander aimlessly. Whether it’s in cooking or any aspect of life, we need to take a moment to pause, reflect on where we stand, and look back at our past and the processes that brought us here. It’s essential to respect the ingredients we use and show appreciation to everyone involved, not just for the sake of being different.
Tell us about Takumi, your restaurant, and the inspiration behind it.
Takumi is a restaurant where we currently serve Kaiseki-style Japanese cuisine. We offer a choice of nine-course or six-course degustation menus, and we will soon be launching vegan courses as well. Our focus is on traditional and authentic Japanese cuisine. The inspiration behind Takumi is unique. We are not simply importing Japan to Bali; instead, we are creating Japan here. We utilize the amazing local ingredients available in Bali and Indonesia, embracing the wealth of flavours they offer. As a Japanese chef, I incorporate Japanese culinary techniques and strive to express the true essence of Japanese cuisine. Additionally, I am passionate about training young chefs in Bali, sharing my knowledge, skills, and the history and philosophy of Japanese cuisine, in order to elevate the level of Japanese culinary expertise in the region.
Why is great service such an important part of the culinary experience?
Great service is crucial because it enhances the overall dining experience. When customers pay a significant amount for their meals, they should be able to enjoy them fully. It’s important to create an atmosphere where people can feel happy and comfortable. The emotions and atmosphere in a restaurant can significantly impact the perception of the food. Service acts as an additional spice that complements the dishes coming out of the kitchen. It’s not just about the food; it’s about the complete experience – from the moment guests enter the restaurant until they leave. We aim to leave a lasting memory and ensure that our guests have a truly enjoyable time at our restaurant.
Who are your heroes in the world of cooking?
Although it may sound cliché, my heroes in the world of cooking are my grandmother and my mother. However, my true heroes are the young chefs working in the Takumi kitchen. Each of them brings their unique experiences, which I have never had. Their willingness to learn and their different perspectives make them admirable and worthy of respect. These young chefs are my heroes because they challenge themselves and strive to become respected in the culinary industry.
What knives do you use?
I primarily use a small petty knife. I don’t have a specific brand preference. I own several Japanese knives, but my favourite is the small petty knife, which I use for personal use at home. I don’t typically use large knives in my cooking.
What’s the most exciting new ingredient you are incorporating into your food?
Well, every week brings new and exciting ingredients to our kitchen, even if they are the same vegetables we’ve used before. Each batch has its own unique qualities, and that’s what makes it thrilling. We have conversations with the ingredients, exploring their potential and listening to what they have to say. When they arrive in the kitchen, we greet them and get to know them. ‘Hello, my name is blah blah blah, who are you?’ We might say to a red radish. It’s a delightful way to engage with the ingredients and understand their desires. Do they want to be a sauce, a garnish, or simply shine on their own? We listen to their aspirations and help them become what they want to be. It’s the chef’s job, and it’s the most enjoyable and exciting aspect of our work.
What motto inspires your life as a chef?
Well, I’ve touched on this in previous answers, but it’s a question worth pondering. As a chef, I find immense joy and satisfaction in working with ingredients and creating dishes. It’s the happiness and fun that come from this process. There are many people involved in the culinary world, from suppliers to farmers, fisherman, and even drivers. My motto is simple: I want to make people happy. I strive to bring joy to others through my creations and my work. It’s not just about the guests; it’s about everyone who is connected to food and to me. I want to contribute to a collective happiness and create a positive impact within this circle. As a chef, I am just one part of a larger ecosystem, and my goal is to make everyone in this circle happy.
IG & FB: @kohakubali
FB: @Takumi Bali