Inakaya Head Chef Ushio Masakazu On Bringing Robatayaki Culture to Hong Kong
All images courtesy of Adam Thompson | CSP Times.
Robatayaki, also commonly known as robata, is an intimate dining experience originating from Hokkaido, Japan. The cooking style involves customers sitting around a charcoal grill with the robata chef at the centre, chatting as they order the fresh seafood displayed in front of them. The robata culture is a unique and inviting experience unlike any other.
For Chef Ushio Masakazu 牛尾昌, robatayaki represents the Japanese heritage of hospitality of its people and passion for cooking. At Inakaya, Chef Masakazu brings the three motos, 「粋 chic」,「活 fresh」and「意気 spirits」to all guests. Hailing from Inakaya Tokyo and New York, chef has served many well-known elites and celebrities, including former Japanese prime ministers, and joined Inakaya Hong Kong in 2011.
Here, Chef Masakazu shares his authentic robatayaki philosophies.
1. What does robatayaki mean to you and why is it so unique?
In old times there were a lot of Robatayaki restaurants in Japan; not in Japan not in Osaka either. When I first started working as a chef, there were really a few robatayaki restaurants. I think what makes robatayaki so unique, is our display of the food ingredients in front of the guests, and our cooking and serving style, for example, we kneel when we grill, and after we grill the food, we serve the food to the guests using the wooden paddle. Having said that, not all robatayaki restaurants use these styles, only Inakaya insists on using these styles for more than 40 years, so I would that it is what makes Inakaya so unique.
Also, every night we have a mochi-making ceremony (usually Japanese families do it on the 1st of January, it is a traditional practice) in which we make the mochi together with the guests. It is fun and guests can take part in the food-making process. It is a very unique experience for guests.
2. How do you source your ingredients? Any personal favourite market(s)?
I don’t visit the local market a lot. I have some food suppliers that I really trust, and I think building a strong relationship with them is very important. Since we display most of the food ingredients in front of the guests every evening, the food’s quality and freshness are very important. Guests can tell which are fresh or not by their eyes. And therefore we select our ingredients very carefully. We pick the best and we decide how to prepare them in order to show the best of each ingredient.
3. What do you wish to bring to Hong Kong as one of the culinary capitals of the world?
I would like to follow the three mottos Inakaya has already emphasized;
「粋 chic」「活 fresh」「意気 spirits」
粋 Chic is cooking and enjoying the food with style. For me, the robatayaki in Inakaya is really special as guests sit around the U-shaped table and enjoy the food grilled freshly by the chefs in front of them.
活 Fresh, to me, is the quality of the food, I would like to bring top-notch ingredients to Hong Kong prepared in our innovative ways.
意気 Spirits, to me, is an attitude and hospitality to guests. In Inakaya, we don’t only cook and serve, we entertain the guests and care about them. I have been in Inakaya Hong Kong for more than 10 years, a lot of guests have their birthday dinners, wedding proposals/engagement dinners here, and we wish the guests all the best with our food and our heart. Sincerity is really important, and we try to remember the guests’ preference so that guests will feel a friend is cooking for them and they will feel warm. I have made friends with many of the guests too.
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?
‘What one likes one will do well’. I truly believe that. I think if they really have a passion for cooking and want to make others happy through cuisine, they will work hard and do well naturally. My words for them are, don’t lose faith in yourself because there will be uncertainty and people may criticize you on your cooking journey, but as long as you truly enjoy cooking and have the passion, you will never go wrong.
Be humble and learn, and have fun cooking!
Be humble and learn, and have fun cooking!
5. How would you describe the dining experience and atmosphere at Inakaya?
I think it is very special compared to other restaurants. In robatayaki in Inakaya Hong Kong, it is a separate section and we keep everything simple yet cosy. Upon entering our dining room you will see a great display of food in front of you and two chefs will be greeting you in traditional Japanese clothes. I think guests will feel our hospitality from us from the very start to the end of their meal. Guests sit around the U-shaped table and even if you don’t know other guests, you can easily chit-chat with them since it is a connected table. There's supposed to be a lot of laughter in the dining room while the food is being served. It is a very unique experience in Hong Kong and I encourage people who love Japanese cuisine to visit us not only for the food but also for the atmosphere.
Address: Shop A, 101/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong | Website: jcgroup.hk/restaurants/inakaya/| Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Phone: +852 2972 2666 | Instagram: @inakaya_hk | Facebook: @Inakaya 田舍家