by Guglielmo Greco Piccolo & Sara Albano - photo ©ourtesy of Fabio Campoli & Tablet2.0
Colours, Jap Fusion Flavors And Zen, Skating To The Rhythm
Masaki Kuroda is the classic example of a talent about who all the possible clichés, based on his origins, cultural and linguistic differences, are broken at the first meeting. The timid and honest, respectful and kind look of this modern samurai from Japan who, after staying and learning as much as possible among the most renowned and sophisticated Italian restaurants from the North to the South, has brought his talent, creativity and innovation to re-arrange, just as in the art of Ikebana, the gastronomic and visual style of today's Masaki.
Masaki Kuroda is first of all an artist, a researcher, an explorer who, with the highest quality ingredients, visual experimentation and modern zen practices, has transferred from the kitchens to the tables of the restaurants where he works, the 'Serendepico' in Lucca, along with the other restaurants, Sabrina and Silva, the whole essence of a new Jap Fusion concept that is esteemed by an audience of lovers not only of good food but also, above all, of that contemporaneity and innovation that led Masaki to compete in Top Chef Italia.
Although he did not win the contest, yet, Masaki has always captivated and impressed the judges and his colleagues with his incredible ability to combine and to balance ingredients , contrasts and traditions into true and enjoyable artworks, taking those who taste, assimilate and interiorize all this onto an authentic journey that goes far beyond the simple taste experience. Is it highly probable that the Top Chef Italia judges did not fully understand such an alchemy? Maybe. Could anyone complain about the healthy, protectionist nationalism of Made in Italy? Probably this too, because everything, nothing excluded, could be part of the game. Masaki already knew all this, taking all the risks, and for him the challenges that are involved.
Luckily, Masaki has decided to move to a country that despite internal issues, some bureaucratic holes and perhaps more than some contradiction, has always supported the talents and creativity of many foreigners who have now become important national figures.
Of course, Masaki Kuroda's popularity has risen exponentially thanks to his character of great inner depth and competent creative richness. His is a creativity that also moves into another, bigger passion: the skateboard. In addition to being a clever athlete amongst the stoves, we find a Masaki who challenges the air, the force of gravity, with that insane sense of looking into the face of the danger, facing a very possible devastating fall, and who is then ready to get up and to start to deal again with his own risks, just as in the kitchen. Just like some of the manga characters that have always fascinated Tablet Community.
That's why we have interviewed Masaki exclusively for all of you.
1) Masaki, thank you for this interview. How did you decide to move permanently to Italy, a country that definitely appears, especially for its eno-gastronomy, totally different from your original country? What really convinced you?
M.K. Thanks to you. Italian and Japanese cuisine are not so different, you use pasta and bread, we use rice and, like our cuisine, yours is varied and healthy.
I was personally impressed by the colours of your dishes which are always so inviting and comfortable. For me, Italian cuisine is synonymous with ‘family’, great lunches and dinners, real feasts, in short.
My first encounter with your cuisine was in an Italian restaurant, in Japan; I was blown away, and from there I decided to give up my architectural studies to sign up for the cooking school of Gianluca Pardini, here in Lucca.
2) After following you in some sessions of Top Chef Italy, we noticed backstage but also in some moments of the competition, several tensions, successes and disappointments. What mostly disappointed and, at the same time, rewarded you as a protagonist in a tele format that very possibly didn’t fully recognised your talent?
M.K. Taking part in Top Chefs Italy was a great experience in a good and for bad way, breathing in an air of competition, a ‘positive’ competition, having to do with chefs of a such high level. This helped me to grow up and I learned so much.
Of course, the stress was tangible, and the cameras did not make me very comfortable, all the opposite, indeed. But, during the shooting, I built very strong and beautiful bonds with the other competitors which I'm sure, I will take with me for a long time.
About the final result I can only say that Matteo deserved the victory and is really an excellent chef and it is also obvious that being in the first Italian edition of the program, it should be an Italian participant that won. At the end, the positive judgments of the judges about me were as good as a victory.
3) What was your welcome in Italy? Is it particularly hard for a foreign professional to be recognized in the first, worldwide nation of food-makers? What kind of relationships exists between you and your Italian colleagues?
I arrived in Italy as a student; At the beginning it was hard, but for the language more than anything else. Studying in an Italian language cooking school was not that easy and even the earliest approaches in the world of work were not simple; the language difficulties seemed an insurmountable step, but I am lucky to have such a good memory and that allowed me to learn quickly. In the second year, already I was going a lot better with it.
Between me and my chef's colleagues or chefs of other restaurants there is so much respect; I've kept some beautiful friendships that I will carry with me for the rest of all my life.
4) Tell us a bit more about 'Serendepico' in Lucca. Who created it and why do you think it is a different restaurant from the others? Are not there too many restaurants in Italy? Why is it worthwhile to go there?
M.K. Serendepico was born more than 10 years ago; the several managements have changed over all this time, as well as the chefs who gave birth to the kitchen of one of the most beautiful places we have in Lucca.
I personally got stranded in 2011 after working in other locations in Lucca and Italy. I decided to follow Damiano Donati, great chef and friend who had been working for a few years in the Serendepico kitchen, and I was fascinated by his cuisine. After a dinnerat Serendepico I went to the kitchen and asked if I could be his intern and gladly he and the Serendepico patron, Alessandro Ciomei, both welcomed me.
Finally, in 2014, I became Serendepico's chef under the guidance of Alexander, patron and owner.
In April, Sabrina, Silva and I became the owners.
We propose a style of innovative cuisine for the Lucca hill. We are used to climbing the hill to enjoy traditional dishes in ancient cottages. We go against the mainstream and in an old farmhouse we create unique, elegant dishes with a strong Japanese influence without ever necessarily to omit the vocation of this territory.
It is always difficult to be understood and we have had difficult times, but we are tenacious and we deeply love our work and now we can see the results of so much passion in the happy faces of our customers.
Our strength, as well, is our hospitality. This goes beyond offering unpretentious but basic dishes. We have often heard that dining with us is the same as it would be between friends or in a family. We believe in a very clean and well done service but without too much putti and frills that are totally unnecessary, in my opinion.
5) Can we ask if you are a contemporary visual art lover? We have noticed the layouts of your dishes that we believe could be exhibited in many galleries of contemporary art. Is it so important that visual, sometimes, prevails over the taste?
M.K. I am a lover of Beauty, as a result of art and in every expression of it. I consider myself an aesthete and I think this also appears in my creations. My dishes have been often compared to Ikebana, certainly because of my origins, but also for the use of wild flowers and my maniacal sense for order and balance (chromatic and sensory). Talking about food, in my culture the aesthetic aspect is fundamental; we spend time and money searching the perfect dish for each particular course. We always eat first with the eyes and sometimes the results are so excellent that they look like such beautiful pictures that eating them is almost a shame.
Italian cuisine has very different canons; the dishes are inviting and succulent but not necessarily beautiful and this is an aspect that has fascinated me; to be able to combine the pleasure of the Italian table and its being comfortable with the aesthetics and the healthy and complex taste of Japanese cuisine.
6) Looking at your dishes, especially in these current times, having a dinner or having a lunch at every restaurant, it's so easy for a lot of customers to think: 'Inviting dishes for sure, but who knows how much it will cost to eat there? How can you overcome this primary obstacle?
M.K. We have been restaurateurs for less than two years; we still think ourselves to be raw young entrepreneurs and we have so much to learn, especially about cost management, etc ... But we are also sure that the quality of the primary materials we use has to be paid for.
We are shocked about how many people nowadays prefer to spend as little money as possible to stuff themselves with food and don’t expect to be sick afterwards.
When you leave the Serendepico you are satisfied but not heavily affected and surely the next day you will not have migraines caused by wines of doubtful origin. A very careful selection is a fair rule for us.
And if we are not still understood by everyone, it does not matter. We will never stop bringing to our tables excellence and the quality.
7) Is it true that one evening, during the normal operation of the table service, one of your waiters has damaged themselves on one of your skateboards that was accidentally left in the area? We are joking now. Seriously, what about your two passions? We talk of two types of totally different happinesses, one quite dangerous, apparently. Why do you like to challenge yourself so much? Do you believe are there possible connections between each of these two parts of yourself?
M.K. When I go to the grocery store and see a bunch of seasonal artichokes that are particularly beautiful, that is where the process of my creation begins; I fall in love with that bunch and when, in my mind, the recipes, and the cooking methods reach the point, I bring them in to the kitchen and the magic begins.
In the same way when I meet a sidewalk, a railing or a descent, my hands itching and the skate chafing, the idea of the trick comes into the life and, when I'm finally ready, I launch myself flying on the four wheels.
Both these passions are part of my artistic expression, freedom of movement, creating a style, and not least, skateboarding is an excellent anti-stress. For a person like me that is 8 to 15 o'clock in front of the stoves, starting a descent at full speed is a real panacea and it keeps my mind clear and free.
And then just as the kitchen is a constant challenge so also is the skate; the only difference is if I make wrong a dish, I would make a bad reputation, if I fall with the skate I could break a leg... (Masaki ends up laughing)!!!
8) You recently participated in the final evening of The Feast of Wine in Montecarlo. This is a very sophisticated occasion with precise and probably, again probably, truly ‘conservative’ tastes and expectations. What has been the general reaction knowing that a Japanese masterchef, even one directly involved in a very ‘Made in Italy’ restoration project, has challenged himself with ingredients and recipes associated with good wines, that are not necessarily known and tested?
M.K. "Actually this is the second year that we have done the final evening of The Wine Festival, in Monte Carlo and I must say that we are always welcomed and our dinners have always gone well, especially this year. Despite the bad weather (it literally poured with rain) we had a fully booked evening. I cannot deny my happiness when they gave us the dinner theme, of herbs and spontaneous flowers (I love working with field flowers and herbs); I spent two days in Careggine (a mountain resort in the Garfagnana area) with the guys of Master of the Ant, gathering herbs in the woods. So despite the strong attachment to their own tradition, we have also a big following in Monte Carlo."
9) We leave you with this last question, sure that we will continue to follow you as far as possible. If you should give for Tablet a very pretty, delicious dish, with a recipe to let us experience on our own, which one could be?