Trevor Blyth has lived in Japan for a decade and is the chef-proprietor of the White Fox restaurant in Tokyo, where he strives to serve French and Japanese cuisines in perfect harmony. He speaks to Kerstin Kühn
What encouraged you to work in Japan in the first place?
I wanted to improve my knowledge of high level French cuisine and in 1993 was lucky enough to be accepted as a stagiere at Michel Guerard's Les Pres d'Eugenie in Eugenie-Les-Bains. There I met several Japanese chefs and was really impressed by the fact that although they came from a country which has its own unique, vast and highly developed cuisine, they still wanted to perfect French food to a high level.
They believed good food is good food, whether it is French or Japanese. I wanted to better understand this wonderful open mindedness and visit Japan.
How has working abroad enhanced your career?
Working in both France and Japan has been an invaluable experience. Serious time spent working in any foreign country will look good on anyone's CV because any perspective employer will know that this person is capable of adjusting to a different environment and facing up to a challenge.
What do you like about working in Japan?
Most of all I like the Japanese passion for food, their appreciation of anything good and tasty and their desire to try anything which is new to them. They also have a sensible understanding for the value of food, in a nutritional sense, in a social entertaining sense and in a financial sense, and understand that higher quality produce is more expensive. Japan has some of the best beef and fish in the world and it is a joy to cook with such great produce.
How does hospitality in Japan differ from that in the UK?
Japan has two separate hospitality industries which co-exist but are very different. Next to the western-style hospitality industry, there's also a very Japanese style of hospitality. For instance, the Japanese have an enormous number of traditional-style hotels called Ryoken, which are almost always built around hot spring baths. The Japanese use them as places of relaxation where the two main pursuits are bathing and eating Kaiseki cuisine.
What could UK hospitality learn from Japan, with regards to people management?
Politeness and a happy smile! It is prerequisite in Japan for anyone that will have any customer contact whatsoever, and puts everyone in a more relaxed and harmonious mood, making every common daily task much more enjoyable.
What has surprised you most about hospitality in Japan?
The age difference of people working in all areas of the Japanese hospitality industry was probably the greatest surprise. Young and older members of staff appear to be much more at ease working with each other than in the West. I know many old Japanese chefs who are still very happy to prepare and cook their food for long hours, day after day.
What advice would you give to anyone in the industry wishing to work abroad?
Do it! It is very true to say that travel broadens the mind and working abroad will not only open up new career opportunities and give you insight into different and better ways to cook or work, but it will also give invaluable experience of interacting with different people from different cultural back grounds.
Do you plan to return to work in the UK and, if so, how will you use your experience of working abroad? It is my dream, one day, to open a version of my Tokyo restaurant in the UK. But I am under no illusion as to the size of project this would have to be to become successful. We would have many issues to overcome regarding the supply of unique Japanese ingredients and I would not compromise on standards.
I am sure that we could bring exciting new skills and ideas to the UK restaurant scene and in turn this would hopefully open up exchange opportunities for other young chefs from the UK and Japan to experience life and work in each others country.
CV TREVOR BLYTH
1994-96 Le Gavroche, London
â- 1996 As winner of the Roux Scholarship, won stages at Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire, and La Cote Saint Jacque, France
â- 1996-98 Head chef, Mallory Court hotel, Leamington Spa
â- 1998-2000 Head chef, Pelham Street restaurant, London
â- 2000-02 Head chef, Barakura English Garden, Nagano, Japan
â- 2004-06 Executive chef, Kayumanis, Tokyo
â- 2006 to present Chef-proprietor, the White Fox, Tokyo, Japan