Alex Craciun, Executive Head Chef, Sosharu

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th November 2016

Restaurateur Jason Atherton (who is no stranger to a Michelin-star restaurant) opened his Japanese restaurant Sosharu in London earlier this year. Situated in trendy Clerkenwell, Jason chose Alex Craciun to be executive head chef there.

Alex has travelled all around the world and worked in some well-known establishments (Noma, Maze, D.O.M) and so we had to have a chat with him about the new venture! Sosharu is a leap in the right direction for the pair, both of whom have had an interest in Asian flavours and cooking styles for some time.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Alex about learning in Japan, the menu and food style at Sosharu and his relationship with Jason.

Bream sashimi, shichimi crispy potato
Bream sashimi, shichimi crispy potato 

Why did you want to be a chef? Where did your interest in food start?

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef at all funnily enough. I started studying engineering initially in my home country of Romania, but it wasn’t for me so I left and started looking for my real passion.

I tried a cooking course and it took off from there - as soon as we did our 2 month stage in a restaurant, I realised that it was the industry for the me - I loved the buzz of the kitchen. When I was 20, I moved from Romania to the UK to gain experience - it was only going to be temporary, but I’m still here now!

Tell us about your time in Japan and how this inspired you.

I travelled and worked around Japan for a year to gain the experience and knowledge needed for Sosharu - I worked at the restaurants Kikunoi under chef Yoshihiro Murata, and RyuGin under Seiji Yamamoto in Tokyo. It was definitely a culture shock - everything from the working etiquette, to the working hours - everyone treats the head chef like a god. The everyday food there was so different: the staff meal was udon noodles, rice, fish, soup (compare that to the western world where every meal is served with bread).

I also didn't speak the language fluently - and chefs would only speak Japanese in the kitchen - so my first months were spent trying to learn the names of all the ingredients as I cooked. It was an incredible year though and at the end of it I had built so much knowledge, I couldn't wait to come back and get cooking in London. Sosharu is a mix of everything that I saw and trained for in Japan, with a twist. I learnt specialities at each kitchen I worked at, such as Tokyo-style sashimi, or traditional tonkatsu, and I've used that training as a base for my menu.

>>> Find out more about Jason Atherton here

I love the purity of Japanese food, the simplicity of the dishes and their technique. 90% of their dishes are about the produce and that’s something I try to bring to Sosharu.

Info bar

Where you’ve worked 

Boxwood Cafe & Plane Food - Nathan Johnson

Maze - Gordon Ramsey 

Noma - Rene Redzepi 

D.O.M. - Alex Atala 

Pollen street social - Jason Atherton 

Nihonryori Ryugin - Seiji Yamamoto

Kikunoi - Yoshihiro Murata 

Dream restaurant 

Sosharu is Alex's dream restaurant, he is part owner of Sosharu, so he is already cooking the food he always wanted to - a Japanese izakaya style restaurant using seasonal British ingredients with Japanese sensibilities. 

Dream Brigade 

Sat Bains - meat section

Alain Passard - garnish section

Jiro Ono - sashimi section

Masa Takayama - helping sashimi section

Claire Clark - pastry section

Tetsuya Saotome - tempura section 

Seiji Yamamoto - rice and teppanyaki section

Did Jason approach you personally when opening Sosharu? What is he like to work with?

It came about quite organically - I was working for Jason as senior sous chef at Pollen Street Social, having worked with him since the Maze days. After my first trip to Japan, I went back to London and sat down with Jason and his wife Irha, cooked a few dishes and techniques that I'd learnt and we decided to open a Japanese restaurant from there.

Toro tartare, scallion tobiko, sushi rice, spiced mayonnaise

Toro tartare, scallion tobiko, sushi

rice, spiced mayonnaise 

I then went back to Japan to train fully. Jason is inspirational to work with, and very loyal. He puts a lot of hard work into his restaurants and supporting his chef patrons and head chefs, and I give the same back to him.

What are your daily responsibilities at Sosharu?

I am responsible for everything from the daily running of the kitchen, managing the team and menu development, to taking part in account meetings to discuss the financial and operational side of the business. At the moment, my time is very much taken up with cooking in Kisetsu, which is the kappo-style chef’s table restaurant hidden inside Sosharu.

>>> Take a look at the head chef jobs we have on our jobs board

It’s 10 seats only, and I cook in front of the guests, so it’s very hands on. A lot of the menu is improvised every day with what’s in season, so it’s an exciting and creative process for me.

What makes Sosharu similar to an izakaya, if it is at all similar?

It’s similar, but also…not so similar. Sosharu is like an izakaya in that it’s a relaxed space and we have a sharing menu of small plates, however we have taken it a bit further, made the dishes a bit more refined and complex.

What do you think the people of London make of your modern Japanese menu? Are you in charge of the menu or does Jason have some input?

Tonkatsu crumbed pork, seasonal radishes, kombu dressing

Tonkatsu crumbed pork, seasonal

radishes, kombu dressing

It's definitely not a traditional menu. It's a marriage of Japanese flavours & techniques with some western influences, using British seasonal ingredients - which I think Londoners enjoy. Take our broccoli tempura - it's topped with kimchi & tomato powder and Parmesan, so you have an underlying traditional Japanese technique combined with western elements.

We have fun with the dishes. Jason will come and taste dishes when he’s in the restaurant, but I am ultimately in charge of the menu - he is more my business partner.

Is there a dish you sell out of every time?

There are two dishes that people love. First, the open temakis, which use a tempura nori wrap as a ‘taco’ base for sushi rice and fish - they are very moreish. Secondly, our matcha mille crepe - a crepe cake layered with matcha cream - is also very popular. Matcha mille crepe has something of a cult following in Asia, so we even get a few Asian guests coming specifically for it.

What are your plans for the future? Would you go back to Japan?

I’m going back to Japan for a holiday in January and can’t wait - I’m travelling to Osaka to visit a few small family-run restaurants there to get some inspiration. My plan for the future right now is to just keep improving the restaurant and building a team of happy chefs.

If you enjoyed this feature read more in the Heroes of The Hotplate series here

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th November 2016

Alex Craciun, Executive Head Chef, Sosharu