Journal du Japon takes you to the east of France, to Strasbourg, to introduce you to Asumi Kiyohara, chef of the restaurant “Yuki café restaurant”. His credo: discover authentic Japanese cuisine with pleasure. Note for those who have traveled to Japan or want to discover it, dining at cafe restaurant Yuki is “being in Japan”!
Strasbourg offers many dining options, especially Japanese cuisine. You can eat the inevitable sushi and dishes that are popular in France, such as ramen (noodles in broth), tonkatsu (fried breaded pork), yakitoris (skewers), karaage (fried chicken) and takoyaki (octopus dumplings). But for a few months, the chief Asumi Kiyohara opened the Yuki cafe restaurant and offers a Japanese cuisine that stands out from the usual offerings in the Alsatian city. His bet: to share the taste of authentic and local Japanese cuisine.
One April afternoon, an appointment was made at 4 boulevard de Nancy to interview the chef and her friend Youssef Katiri.
Journal du Japon: can you tell us something about your background?
Asumi Kiyohara † my name is Asumi Kiyohara, I am from Osaka. I studied in Japan to become a nutritionist. I quickly understood that as a nutritionist you have to be able to cook. French cuisine is well known in Japan, but it is not part of the everyday life of the French. I was interested in it because it is different from Japanese cuisine, it uses less salt.
After my studies I wanted to go to France to learn French cuisine. First of all, I was looking for a school to learn to speak French. Moving to Paris would have been interesting as there are many schools and a Japanese community, but the cost of housing and language schools was too high.
I particularly liked Alsace because there was an affordable private language school and because the region is close to Germany. And even though it can be cold in winter, I decided to settle in Strasbourg in October 2006.
Have you learned French cuisine?
Yes, I studied French for three years and then went to the Paris region for a year and a half to learn how to cook. After that I worked for a while in a French restaurant in Southern Norway. I came back to Strasbourg because I had friends there and I worked in the Japanese restaurant? Shoon† But my student residence visa no longer allowed me to work in France, so this time I returned to Japan to apply for a trade visa.
On my return I wondered if it is relevant for a Japanese like me to cook French, as I don’t know the taste of French cuisine either. On the other hand, I know Japanese cuisine well and I thought I could show the French that Japanese cuisine is not just sushi and yakitori. So I chose to open a Japanese restaurant.
You opened the restaurant at 4 boulevard de Nancy on the edge of Strasbourg city center. Is it a strategic choice?
The rent is interesting in relation to the surface. I am fortunate to have a large kitchen with the necessary equipment. It’s a bit far from the center, but that’s not important because I think if my cuisine appeals to my customers, they will come to this area.
Youssef Katiri: it is a cost-effective choice in the beginning. The property was occupied before the construction of the Boulevard de Nancy and the arrival of the tram. The neighborhood is changing and gentrification is taking place. This place used to be a bakery and then a döner kebab. Instead of occupying an expensive and smaller place in the city center that requires immediate results and pressure, Asumi preferred to have a better space/price ratio, take the time to cook for others and make his own kitchen development. His choice is quite profitable today.
Can you explain the decor of the restaurant because when we enter it we have the feeling of being in Japan!
Youssef Katiri: it’s popular (laughs). We are familiar with Japanese restaurants in Alsace or Germany, and we didn’t want to have fake decoration. Emphasis is often placed on Asian decorations to give the feeling of a change of scenery or exoticism. Here, someone unfamiliar with Japan will not immediately have the feeling of being in Japan, but the refined, simple side of the materials used (especially lime made in Alsace) is reminiscent of it. We worked with a local architectural firm to upgrade the entire property and ensure it is up to standards.
The tatami room is a bit special, it is decorated like a Japanese living room and does not make you squat, because in Europe we are not used to sitting for long in this way. The room was designed by a Japanese architect, the materials were imported directly from Japan and it was a local carpenter who did the assembly.
Have you chosen to create a weekly “wabi” (short) and “sabi” (full) menu, knowing that you are only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights?
Asumi Kiyohara: it’s a personal choice because changing the menu every week is complicated and so I need time to develop it. Every time I wonder if the dish I’m thinking of will appeal to the people of Strasbourg. Restoration requires a lot of work, from morning to night. It’s a really tough job when we’re open for lunch and dinner and I know if I’m stressed my job will be neglected.
I told myself that the most important thing is to please myself and my customers. I therefore limit the number of days the restaurant is open, so that I can work well and serve the best cuisine.
Do you get supplies from France and Japan to prepare your dishes?
I buy Japanese products from a supplier in Germany, mainly Japanese rice, and on the Internet. For fresh produce, I buy from local stores and even local producers. I also grow plants such as yuzu (citrus) and shiso (see our article on shiso).
You cook Japanese dishes, but you also introduce French products to this cuisine.
In fact, if I import most of the products from Japan to make authentic Japanese dishes, it’s not very good for the environment. So I try to buy locally and in season as soon as possible, for example the asparagus I cooked this week comes from Hoerdt (Bas-Rhin).
You offer quite an extensive sake menu and even sparkling shiso!
Youssef Katiri: it is a Japanese supplier that directly connects the sake producers in Japan to the restaurant. Most of the sake on offer is imported directly from Japan.
Asumi Kiyohara: I also offer a special “Gyotaku” wine, produced by a Franco-Japanese pair of Alsatian winegrowers, which goes well with the Japanese taste of the dishes served. It goes particularly well with sushi. The company name is Star Countriesin Ostheim near Colmar.
To conclude this interview, can you tell us about your future projects?
I was planning to open the cafe in April as it is “Yuki cafe restaurant”, but I didn’t have time. It would be a half-traditional, half-western ‘cafe’ serving cakes and tea. I’ll take a moment to think about this project.
Journal du Japon thanks chef Asumi Kiyohara for accepting this interview. To make a reservation, go to the restaurant’s website and follow the social networks:
Yuki cafe restaurant