Five Minutes With: Atisuto’s Aijiro Shinoda
Describe one of your earliest food memories?
Growing up in Tokyo, I remember food always being an important part of our family life, but the first memory that really sticks with me was when I first went to work in the kitchens at the Hotel Okura Tokyo back in 1977. I had never seen ‘exotic’ ingredients before and here I was faced with all these weird and wonderful things, such as papaya, mango and caviar. I remember being absolutely amazed by the look, smell and taste of them. It was the first time I had even seen a tropical fruit, let alone tasted or cooked with one. I remember being so excited to take some home for my family to try.
Nowadays, tropical fruits are very popular in Japan and mango is grown locally, on a semi-tropical island called Okinawa. It really is delicious but, at around AED 200 (US$54.5) per slice, it’s considered quite the delicacy and is most often bought as a gift to take when visiting friends.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
My mother used to say: ‘if you become a chef, even if you are poor, you still can eat.’ I liked to eat yummy food, so thought I better cook it! I originally wanted to be a pilot but my father in his wisdom suggested I work in the kitchens of the best hotel in Tokyo (Hotel Okura). I absolutely loved it and ended up working there for 22 years, so it was obviously the right decision.
How would you describe the cuisine at Atisuto?
Our menu combines authentic Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques with modern influences from Western kitchens. The menu continually evolves to give our customers the chance to explore Japanese street food, such as ramen, yakitori, takoyaki, yakisoba, ikayaki, okonomiyaki and chicken karaage, with a modern presentation that appeals to many nationalities.
We focus on eye-catching presentations — our goal is for people on neighbouring tables to get ‘food envy’ and order the dishes they see being brought out to the tables next to them.
Dishes can be ordered individually or shared; it’s up to the diner and we don’t like to impose upon them how to eat. Atisuto is all about offering popular Japanese cuisine that is accessible and affordable and if people get to try something new too, then that’s even better.
Following demand from the local Japanese community, we launched our first Japanese bakery concept at Ibn Battuta late last year, offering a selection of pastry items — including Japanese cheese cake, croissant cream, chocolate chip scones and honey cubes — which are made using flour specially sourced from Japan, alongside traditional Japanese desserts such as Atisuto’s milk cake.
What are the stand out dishes on the menu?
Our ramen is one of our signatures — we offer beef, chicken and prawn katsu variations. Another dish that keeps our guests coming back is our pan-fried chicken gyoza garnished with nira grass, a flat chive available fresh in the market here. From the bakery, it would have to be the Atisuto milk cake, made with chiffon paste for extra moisture in the sponge, and milk cream, gelatin and sugar for the panna cotta style topping.
Do you have anything new planned for the coming year with the brand?
The brand is continually evolving and innovating, never following the crowd. We are currently undertaking a review of the menu offering and are developing ideas to further establish, and perhaps extend, the bakery concept; as well as several other enhancements to the brand which are currently in the pipeline.