How I Got Here: Akira Shimizu

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with chef director Akira Shimizu

Related tags: Chef, Restaurant, London

Akira Shimizu is chef director for his eponymous restaurant Akira at Japan House in Kensington, and Engawa in Soho.

Why restaurants?
I was always drawn to the restaurant scene when I was younger, all of the different local cuisines around Japan are so dynamic and exciting.  As soon as I began working in restaurants, I found it was an industry that I was seriously passionate for.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
I wish I had been told to be true to myself from the beginning, to always keep calm but stay motivated with your goals in mind.

What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a bit of a workaholic, with two restaurants in London and a number in Japan, so I’m always thinking about new ideas. I do like to visit new restaurants in London, though; my life basically revolves around food.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
This is a hard question, but I would have to say The Araki in London is my favourite. The chefs are incredibly skilled, and the food is so fresh and absolutely beautiful. It’s hard to beat.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
As I’ve worked in the industry since I was fifteen years old it’s really hard to imagine myself in another job. If I had to choose I would say a painter or graphic designer because a love the visual form, art and being creative.

What motivates you?
I know it’s a cliché but I love to see a full restaurant with happy customers. One of the reasons I love being a chef is the ability to create enjoyment for others and being able to see that for yourself is one of the best experiences.

Where was your last holiday?
I recently took a trip to Alicante in Spain; the food and wine were equally delicious!

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
My superior Mr Kazuhiko Hamasaki from Chanto Co. Ltd. I met him when I was working for Daidai-ya in Tokyo. He is a creative genius and even won a few TV cooking competitions. He is an inspiration to me because he has taught me from the beginning, always taught me to be calm when times were hard and encouraged me to put maximum effort and focus into my work.

What keeps you up at night?
It’s usually work-related. Because I work with restaurants in both London and Japan, I find it hard to switch off even when I’m at home. My mind is constantly on work, but I try to relax as much as possible by spending time with my family.

Worst business decision?
We learnt a few lessons opening our first restaurant in London. I’d say we underestimated the impact of being located next to a busy hotel and we were quite overrun as soon as we opened our doors!

Best business decision?
I won’t say much more, other than I think it’s yet to come!

What are you reading at the moment?
This might come as a surprise because it’s not about food, but I’m currently reading a book about macroeconomics. It’s another field of study that really interests me.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Passion and hard work are the keys to success. Some days you’ll think that you can’t do it anymore, but you have to keep motivated.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
The restaurant industry has changed so much recently, I think it runs the risk of becoming over saturated and, although I love the variety in choice, it’s becoming hard to find authentic cuisine.

CV to date

Born: Chiba Prefecture (Japan), 1974

Studied: ​Started apprenticeship at local cuisine restaurant in Miyazaki Prefecture after graduating from high school.

1998–2002 | head chef at DAIDAI-YA, Shinjuku branch
2018-present | chef director at Akira, London
"As well as Akira and Engawa, I also operate several restaurants in Japan such as Yakitori AKIRA, Muzitaki SHIMIZU, Oden KASHIMIN and Teppanyaki KASHIWA."

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