Kei Kobayashi, Kei's Restaurant, Paris

The Staff Canteen

Born in Japan into a family of cooks, the Michelin-starred chef, Kei Kobayashi was raised with an appreciation for food.

It wasn’t until he discovered French Master Chef and Restaurateur, Alain Chapel on TV that he realised his desire to venture into French cuisine. After gaining some experience in his home country, Kei Kobayashi left for France to further improve his knowledge of French gastronomy.

Since moving to France Kei has worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants and kitchens including the three star Auberge du Vieux Puit in Fonjoncuse, two star Cerf in Merlenheim and the one star Prieure in Villeneuve-les-Avignon. After several years working under Alain Ducasse at the three starred Michelin restaurant, the Plaza Athenee, Kei took over Gerard Besson’s restaurant, now known as Kei’s restaurant, in 2011.

Infusing different concepts and structures from his upbringing in Japan with delicate French flavours and textures, Kei has developed a range of creative and distinctive dishes for his first restaurant. We recently caught up with Kei to find out more about his Selfridges takeover, why French sauces first attracted him to the cuisine and how the patrons from Gerard Besson’s restaurant have now accepted his distinct style of cooking.

How did the Selfridges takeover in March come about?

kei-092-2[1] low res

I’m feeling impatient to come to London for the Selfridges takeover.  England is a country I love, I went to this country four times and it is always a good experience with the mix of traditional culture and modern culture. It is very interesting.

What can guests expect from your tasting menu for Selfridges?

They will discover my cuisine and hopefully they will like my dishes.

How did you get into cooking?

My dad was a Japanese chef so I grew up from that background. At aged 15, I saw a TV show with the French chef Alain Chapel. He was all dressed up with the chef uniform: white vest, black pants and I thought that was beautiful! At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a chef and do French cuisine.

What initially attracted you to French cuisine and wanting to move to France?

Initially the sauces attracted me, it’s a very specific French thing in gastronomy, and by the products. You could find very good products in France. And above all, I love Paris! It was a dream for me to live there.

How did your family feel when you decided to move to France?

I do French cuisine so it was obvious that I needed to go to France to learn and progress in my career and what better place to do that than Paris, the heart of French gastronomy.

What training did you do prior to moving to France?Boule de Noel, parfait basilic et fromage blanc, clémentine japonaise et yuzu ©Richzr Haughton low res

I started to learn French cuisine in Japan from the age of 15 with Japanese chefs. One of the chefs told me that if I wanted to learn how to cook meat perfectly, I had to go to France and learn there. When I was 21 I arrived in France to learn French cuisine and I am still working there because it is a dream for me to have my restaurant in Paris.

How has your Japanese upbringing and heritage influenced your dishes?

Although my cuisine is French my Japanese upbringing  and heritage has definitely influenced my dishes such as the aesthetics, the delicacy and the way of cooking some products.

What is your favourite ingredient to work with?

I love working with every product, I learn something more every day.

How did taking over Gérard Besson’s restaurant (now Kei’s restaurant) in Paris come about?

At first it was a challenge because Gerard Besson’s clientele was used to his classic cuisine. Clients gradually got used to the concept at the Kei restaurant and began to accept my cuisine and the unique menu so we now have a faithful clientele.

What did you learn from Alain Ducasse when you first came to Paris?

The most important thing that Alain Ducasse taught me was the technique and the respect of the products.

What would you say is your favourite thing on your menu if you had to choose? (Kei Restaurant and the Selfridges menu)

It is difficult to choose one dish. The menu is a whole.  But I can say that my signature dish is the Garden of vegetables. Beignets d'artichauts aux truffes - Copyright Richard Haughton low res

How often do you change the menu at Kei Restaurant?

I try to change the menu around 11 times in the year. It is very important for me to respect the season of each product.

Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?

My biggest inspiration throughout my career is Pablo Picasso. He is a reference to so many people and is a genius in his field.

What’s next for you and Kei Restaurant?

I hope that one day the Kei Restaurant will be known around the world.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th February 2016

Kei Kobayashi, Kei's Restaurant, Paris