‘Perfectionist’ chef makes history as he becomes the first Japanese cook in France to be awarded three Michelin stars

  • Chef Kei Kobayashi opened his restaurant, Kei, in Paris, nine years ago
  • Critics have hailed the way he makes relatively simple dishes extraordinary 
  • He admitted that his perfectionism can make him a ‘difficult person’ to work with 
  • During the Paris launch event for the 2020 Michelin Guide, Kei thanked France

Chef Kei Kobayashi has become the first Japanese chef ever to win the maximum of three Michelin stars in France.

The 42-year-old, who was born in Nagano, was the biggest winner on a night when Japanese cooks triumphed in the backyard of French haute cuisine.

Kazuyuki Tanaka won two stars for Racine, his French restaurant in the northeastern city of Reims, as did Yasunari Okazaki for his crossover Franco-Japanese cuisine at L’Abysee au Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris.

Kei Kobayashi (centre) makes history by becoming the first Japanese chef to win three Michelin stars in France

During the Monday-night Paris launch event for the 2020 edition of the Michelin Guide, Kei – a striking figure with bleached blond hair – said Japanese cooks have earned their place at the top of French cuisine.

‘There are lots of Japanese chefs now in France and you have accepted us and given us a place,’ he said as picked up the highest distinction in French cooking.

‘Thank you, France,’ he said.

Kei admitted that his perfectionism can make him a ‘difficult person’ to work with.

‘I am quite hard. I ask a lot of my team, and then I ask a lot more,’ he joked.

He opened his restaurant, Kei, in the centre of the French capital, nine years ago, and wowed Paris with such signature dishes as sea bass cooked on its scales and Scottish smoked salmon with roquette mousse and a tomato vinaigrette with lemon emulsion.

Critics hailed the precision of his cooking and the way he made relatively simple dishes like gnocchi, truffle, bellota ham and Parmesan cheese extraordinary.

Michelin described his cooking as both ‘delicate and memorable’.

‘It’s very simple. Every dish that Kei turns the rigour of his attention to is called on to become a signature one,’ it added.

‘I am a Japanese chef who cooks French food,’ Kei said of his 30-seat restaurant, which he runs with his wife, Chikako.

With its sparse grey interior, the chef said he did not need to hang pictures on the walls.

‘My cuisine provides the necessary touches of colour,’ he declared.

The son of a chef who worked in a Japanese restaurant serving traditional multi-course ‘kaiseki’ cooking, Kobayashi decided to dedicate himself to French cuisine after watching a television documentary about the nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Chapel, himself a three-star Michelin chef.

He moved to France in 1998 after training in French restaurants in Japan, working under the legendary chef Gilles Goujon at the Auberge du Vieux Puits on the Swiss border and Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee in Paris before going out on his own.

The restaurant of French chef Paul Bocuse, who died two years ago, meanwhile, has lost one of its Michelin stars after holding three since 1965, a world record.

The Michelin Guide announced that the restaurant in Collonges-au-Mont-d’or, near the French city of Lyon, has been downgraded to two stars.

The restaurant of French chef Paul Bocuse (pictured), who died two years ago, has lost one of its Michelin stars after holding three since 1965, a world record

Dubbed by critics as the ‘pope of French cuisine’, Bocuse died at age 91 in January 2018 in Collonges-au-Mont-d’or, the place where he was born.

He was a tireless pioneer, the first chef to blend the art of cooking with savvy business tactics – branding his cuisine and his image to create an empire of restaurants around the globe whose offerings range from haute cuisine to fast food.

The restaurant’s kitchen is now run by a trio of French chefs.

The Bocuse group also owns a restaurant in Walt Disney World´s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, that opened in 1982, and several brasseries, cafes and other establishments in the city of Lyon and in Japan.

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