Harutaka Kishi is truly a worldly chef. Born to Japanese parents and raised in France, Haru grew up enjoying the bounty of Paris’s finest farmers markets and his mother’s inspired home cooking. His talents have taken him to some of the finest kitchens, from Joël Robuchon’s Le Chateau in Tokyo to Gordon Ramsay at the Trianon Palace in Versailles. Formerly Executive Sous Chef for the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, he now delights diners with award-winning Euro-Asian cuisine as Executive Chef at CHAYA Brasserie in Beverly Hills.
What are your thoughts on food and drink as aphrodisiacs?
As a chef, food plays an important part in the relations between people, in general. One of the reasons why I became a chef was because when I was a child, I so enjoyed eating with my family. But if you ask me if I eat a piece of chocolate, am I going to be all excited? I don’t think so, but it’s the experience of food and how you bring it to people that is exciting.
When you think about sexy dishes, what comes to mind?
What I feel is sexy as a chef is that you can take pretty much anything and turn it into a sexy dish. The way you dress it, the way you garnish it. It depends on who you are serving it to. If you serve it to a man or a woman, it does kind of change. With a salad, if you want to please a lady, you might put lots of color and flavors in it. That is sexy and exciting. And, it plays with your senses.
Do you have a dish or food you might recommend to diners seeking to set the mood?
If a couple is in love, they are going to enjoy everything! This year our menu theme is aphrodisiacs. I’ve done some research and we’re including things like white garlic, avocados, asparagus, and oysters. Fresh, clean foods that leave you feeling more energized. You don’t want someone to roll out of your restaurant!
In Japan, Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and chocolate only. The male doesn’t do anything. It’s all the ladies buying chocolate for the person they like. I don’t know why it’s like that, because in other countries the male is taking care of his lady. So, in Japan, now they created the White Day, on March 14th, so that’s when the male is giving back to the lady.
Is there anything you think of as unsexy, ingredient-wise?
Right off the top of my head, unromantic would be offal – like tripe. As a chef, I love tripe, but I probably wouldn’t put tripe on a Valentine’s Day menu. And, garlic. Garlic is something that you want to be very careful with on Valentine’s Day. Keep things clean, simple and straightforward.
Do you have any suggestions for diners seeking to make a meal at your restaurant as romantic as possible?
That would be more on the service side. I lived in Tokyo and one of my friends was telling me that he went to a restaurant that was amazing, but the service really exceeded his expectations. He had driven to the restaurant with his date, they left the car at the valet, and they went in, and when they sat down there was a note from the owner wishing him well, so the lady would see that. Then, when they finished dinner, they left a huge bouquet in the car for the lady to find. So, that would be something that’s really romantic.
If I go to a restaurant where I know the staff or chef, I will let them know ahead of time and they will help set the mood with Champagne and strawberries. Candied hibiscus in a glass of Champagne is also romantic because the hibiscus blooms in the glass. That may be cheesy for certain people, but it’s really romantic. In terms of the food, you should keep it simple. If it’s too complicated, the guest can’t identify it. I don’t really like lengthy tasting menus if you want a romantic dinner. I think you should have a couple of plates and share everything. Sharing is caring in the U.S.!
What are your thoughts on PDA in restaurants?
I’m French. That answers the question. PDA is good. If I’m in love, I don’t care if it goes over the edge. I’ve been working in that industry for 16 years, and it’s pretty surprising to see what you see!
Have you had any proposals in your restaurant?
Yes! Last year, in June, my older brother was visiting with his fiancée, and planning to propose, so I took care of the ring. I hid it in a pot with a lid with velvet tissue and the ring was sticking out. I brought them the food – and I said to her, “For you, I have a very nice dessert. I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is made out of love and true love only. She didn’t realize at first what was happening!”
Restaurant professionals often wind up dating one another. Have any of your colleagues fallen for one another?
Yeah, of course. As a chef or as an industry person, you spend a lot of time at work, and you get more intimate with the people you work with. It’s pretty common. But, I don’t date anyone from work. It’s a rule I have. It could create problems, especially as a manager. If someone leaves, though….
Reserve a table at CHAYA Brasserie Beverly Hills for a meal that will leave you energized and ready for romance!