'I want to be the second generation of The Araki. I want to be the known apprentice'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Marty Lau, head chef at The Araki in Mayfair, compares bestowing joy on people with his sushi to what he set out to do when he studied to be a psychologist. 

"Convincing someone to be happy from the other end of the room on a chair versus convincing someone to be happy on the other side of a counter, holding a really long knife," he joked, is "a lot more convincing to make people be happy and nourish them." 

In the latest episode of The Staff Canteen's Grilled podcast, editor Cara Houchen and Man Behind the Curtain chef owner Michael O'Hare were joined by friend and fellow chef, Marty Lau.

We were excited to talk to the chef, who, aged 30, was handed the reins of one of just five three Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK by his master, Mistuhiro Araki.


Marty has never been kitchen shy: he was raised by his father and grandparents and worked at his family restaurant every weekend from the age of 15, standing in the heat of burning woks preparing hundreds of plates of food a day.

"That high, I lived for it. It was such an adrenaline rush to be able to see the ticket rack just completely overfill, and you've got piles still to go." 

When he was offered his first mentorship, even though it was a chance for him to seize on the opportunity of a lifetime, Marty found it to be incredibly tough. "The mental pressure of dealing with a Japanese kitchen can be really bewildering." 

Not speaking the language at first, he first felt shut out, so tried to integrate more Japanese, but this was perceived as a lack of respect. 

"But I was relentless. I had to learn a little bit just so that I never missed anything lost in translation." 

He then moved to Yashin in London, where he met Yasuhiro Mineno, who he says is "still one of the most talented chefs there are today in London."

"He's a true craftsman. The way he handles his knives is incredible." 

In 2014, Misturo Araki was visiting his daughter in the UK - and had his eye on opening a London restaurant. 

"I swore to myself that 'if he does come here, I'm going to be his apprentice.'"

His interview was utterly memorable, and he remembers waiting for the sushi master while his agent sat in tears, faced with Mitsuhiro's wife - also in tears - touched that he had gone to the lengths of learning Japanese to improve his craft.

"I was like, 'Jesus Christ, what's going on'. And when finally the master came in, he was like, 'er, what's going on?'" 

He asked why Marty wanted to be his second-hand man, to which he replied that he had been so inspired by Mitsuhiro and other world-leading Japanese chefs, and that what they were trying to achieve was exactly what he had striven for every day of his life.

"I want to improve and better myself so much," he recalls saying. 

Four years later, after more blood sweat and tears than he could ever have imagined, Marty was handed the reins of the three Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant. That same year, he became a father for the first time.

"It was a pretty tough year," he laughed. "But I owe everything to that man. He gave me the future that I've always dreamed of." 


He remembers the first time Mitsuhiro let him lead a service, and just how much he felt rested on that moment. "I was like 28 years old, and I thought it would be my make or break. I thought: he's going to see me doing this, he's going to see that I can't do this and he's never going to be able to hand me the restaurant.'" 

"So there I was, I was shaking like crazy, and there my master was, just giggling on the side. He was like: 'You can do this Marty. I've seen you do this.'" 

"What people don't understand is that immense pressure when ten eyes are on you, especially when the master is there, going 'what the hell is he doing' and you're wondering where all of the years of training have gone." 

"Wonderful as it is to work in the back kitchen where you don't see the customer and you can just do your thing, when you have to do it in front of people staring with daggers because they're paying £310 for you - that's where the real pressure gets to you." 

"You have to have such a belief and will. You literally have to meditate before work to say, 'this amount of training, this amount of pain and suffering is just to get the blood out of the rock to get to where I am today' and it is absolutely humbling, the moment you step into the master's shoes." 

Marty is very grateful to have received the support of some of Britain's greatest chefs - chefs like Michael, Tom Kerridge and Jason Atherton - who've put their faith in him, and feels ever more validated to know that some, like Gareth Ward, had never attempted the Omakase experience before his. 

"This is the Apex. That is the reason why I do my job, just to get that kind of reaction, where it changes someone - even if it's just for one moment, you watch their eyes roll to the back of their heads and their necks are all tilted up - it's like they've found salvation." 

Being an English chef, Marty has been able to bring the free-flowing conversation that the Japanese can only give to people who speak their mother tongue - making it less stand-offish an experience for those who might feel daunted by it.

"It was quite unprecedented having something like this in the UK back when we opened," he said.

What makes it so special for him, is "being able to re-educate people and tell people that it's not just chopsticks and dipping in soy sauce. It's also using your fingers and the sensuality of it - and also appreciating the craft."

"Even in open kitchens, chefs are working, they might have their back turned to you, it's quite difficult to talk with them.

"At The Araki, you're encouraged to ask those questions. If you're feeling a bit lost, that's the accessibility that I feel like I can provide, because in Japan, when a foreigner comes it's quite difficult for them to engage and really get passionate about their produce, about their style, about their history." 

On losing three stars

The Araki's loss of three stars in 2019 hit the industry like a shockwave, especially those patrons who had visited after Mitsuhiro Araki left, and felt standards had been scrupulously upheld. 

"Of course it's a huge loss for the team," Marty said. Not only that, but he felt a crippling sense of guilt at having let his master down.

"It was something that [he] prided himself on." 

Mitsuhiro thought differently.

"He said to me, 'Marty, this is one of the greatest gifts; you've been given a blank slate. Now anything that you've earned, you aren't going to have to live in my shadow. It's all going to be you.'"

"That's the only way I can take it. It could be a blessing or it could be a curse, we'll see." 

Onwards and upwards

Asked what they aspire to, many chefs will say that they want their own restaurant. But not Marty. He wants to live out his own romantic vision: the ceremonious passing of the mantle from master to apprentice.

"That's what I want," he said. 

"I want to be the second generation of The Araki. I want to be the known apprentice." 

"It gives me something to really aspire to. I'm always going to be looking at my master's back - it's always good to have that endless rainbow, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow you're always chasing." 

"He always said, 'Marty, I've come this far and handed you the torch, now you've got to go this far and hand the torch onto the next generation. So it's a huge amount of pressure."

"Obviously it doesn't help if you lose all the stars on the first year," he laughed. "But you know, I take it in my stride."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 1st April 2021

'I want to be the second generation of The Araki. I want to be the known apprentice'