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The Journey Of Natsuko Shoji, Japanese First-Ever Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022

The Journey Of Natsuko Shoji, Japanese First-Ever Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022

Auli Cinantya
25 February 2022

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The world’s 50 Best Restaurant has crowned Chef and owner of Ete, Natsuko Shoji as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022.

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Natsuko Shoji has proven that it is possible to make a successful career out of your biggest passion. Born and raised in Tokyo, Shoji creation blends art, food, and fashion. Her love of fashion was inherited from her mother, still, Shoji fell in love with baking after making cream puffs for a high school assignment.

She spent her early year working at Florilège, a restaurant that has reached the upper echelons of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, where then was promoted to sous chef within three years. Shoji has honed an inimitable cuisine inspired by meticulous French technique, Japanese flavours and an unmistakable taste for haute couture.

In 2014, Natsuko Shoji took a big leap, with the determination to explore more combinations of food and fashion, she open her own tart shop, Eté. Located near Yoyogi Park, Shoji began to create an haute-couture cake inspired by luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, and Chanel. Serves in a luxurious black box, her creation uses Japanese seasonal fruits like strawberry and mango. The success of of her shop have brought her serving celebrities such as David Beckham and René Redzepi. With an intimate six seaters only restaurant, Eté is serving luxurious and exclusive art to their costumer.

Her prestige in the culinary world is not something new. In 2020, Shoji has been awarded as Asia’s Best Pastry Chef. With Eté, she have the opportunity to develop and widen her signature style and showcase her pastry dishes. 

Shoji guides 50 Best through the recipes and inspirations for the signature dishes that made her name, through a complex of 10-course tasting menu. From the exquisite tasting menu, here are some of the five menu that succeed in catching attention and proving her talent. 

While training as a chef, Shoji also creates pastries, the Caviar Mille Feuille is something she wanted to make as a representation of herself. “I formulated the idea of combining pastry techniques into a savoury dish. The base has thick, crispy layers of ‘feuilletage inverse’, shallot mousse and gooseberry pickles. It’s topped with caviar that resembles black diamonds. Lemon curd is served on the side. It’s a marriage of sweet and savoury and of culinary and pastry techniques,” explain Shoji. 

While the Sea Urchin Tart serves to commemorate the beginnings of Été. “I started my restaurant Été as a tart shop, selling a square-shaped mango tart that looks like a jewellery box. To commemorate our beginnings, we serve a square savoury tart at the start of the meal. This is a sea urchin tart. The base is light with crisp pastry and is topped with fresh, creamy sea urchin that melts in your mouth, a spice mix I found and learnt about in Thailand, cured duck egg yolk and Jinhua ham for additional layers of umami.” said Shoji. 

As a one table only restaurant with haute-couture style, many of the dishehs that Shoji created were born from the personal memories of her guests. In Japan, summer is the season for sweetfish: many Japanese restaurants serve the fish grilled or deep-fried. It’s a seasonal delicacy, almost like white truffles in autumn for Europeans.

” I’d like for my guests to enjoy this typical Japanese flavour and I want to make it approachable, so I transform it into a taco, which is loved worldwide. I remove its small bones, sandwich it with courgette, roll it with filo pastry, then pan fry it until it turns golden brown. To accompany the dish, there’s salsa made with fruit and a brown sauce made using sweetfish liver, which I like because of its bitterness, and mayonnaise.”

Meanwhile, Fen Zheng Rou or steamed pork with rice flour were a tribute Shoji made for a special guest that has been supporting her since the restaurant’s opening. “Once, he told me that he likes the Chinese dish fen zheng rou so I wanted to surprise him with my version. I toast glutinous rice and make a powder, which I flavour with consommé and fond (the flavoured broth obtained from deglazing a pan). Then, I wrap pork with the flavoured powder and steam it.”

“To make this dish, I remove some scales from the tilefish and pan-fry it until the remaining scales become crispy. The soup is made with white asparagus, salt and water, like a consommé. The hot soup is served first and the freshly fried tilefish are added one by one. As the tilefish is so hot, the sound, steam and aromas effervesce from the asparagus consommé. This is a dish that focuses on the crustacea-like scent of the scales, fluffy meat of the tilefish and delicate aroma of the asparagus.”

As one of Asia’s most renowned chefs, Shoji has become a role model for women in the industries, across the continent, and her achievements have inspired many to follow in her footsteps. She explains, “I want to have a positive impact, inspire others, and perhaps become a role model for all female chefs out there, especially in Japan, where the number is still quite small.”

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