A small slice of Calabrian sunshine may not be the most obvious culinary find in Kojimachi, near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. But for Elio Orsara (below), the opening of Elio Locanda Italiana was the culmination of a long-held dream – to recreate his southern Italian family kitchen in the Japanese capital.
It was 18 years ago that Orsara arrived in Japan to work for an Italian restaurant group before opening Elio’s behind a discreet red roof entrance in 1996. While he had previously worked for leading restaurants in London and Milan, it was his experiences in his grandmother’s kitchen that left their stamp on his cooking.
Despite regularly receiving such luminaries as Italian heads of state and fashion designers as well as Japanese politicians and sumo wrestlers, the restaurant remains very much a family affair: recipes are inspired by his family kitchen, numerous ingredients are flown in from Calabria and his brother Germano Orsara is the executive chef. The Orsara brothers are one of a growing army of increasingly high-profile non-Japanese chefs who are gravitating towards Tokyo in order to open restaurants.
The attractions to the city for chefs are plentiful: Tokyo is revelling in its status as culinary capital of the world with over 160,000 restaurants and more Michelin stars than New York, London and Paris combined. A reverential respect for fresh, seasonal ingredients, a widespread culture for eating out and impeccable service standards are further factors drawing some of the world’s top chefs to Tokyo’s kitchens.
Tokyo’s top five foreign chefs
01 Bruno Menard at L’Osier in the Shiseido building
02 Carme Ruscalleda at Sant Pau in Nihonbashi
03 Pierre Gagnaire in the Minami Aoyama building
04 Paul Bocuse at Maison Paul Bocuse in Daikanyama
05 Joel Robuchon at the Ebisu Garden Palace