Flash-grilled: Andrew Kojima

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with chef and MasterChef finalist Andrew Kojima

Related tags: Chef, MasterChef

British-Japanese chef Andrew Kojima - who owns Cheltenham-based casual dining Japanese restaurant Koj, and previously competed on MasterChef - talks about life in lockdown, and his problem with oysters.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Sloppiness. We ask people to pay a premium for eating food in a restaurant, so the least you can do is not cut corners. And I’m not stupid, so don’t make it worse with lies, coverups or excuses.

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
At home, I cook simply and economically from any cuisine, but in the restaurant it’s about adding in originality, authenticity and a little presentational flair to justify the premium customers pay for eating something they haven’t cooked themselves.

What’s your biggest regret?
I suppose I occasionally wonder where I would be now if I’d started cooking earlier (I made it my career at the age of 32), but there are plenty of chefs who have come to it late in the day, for example Stephen Harris at The Sportsman and Michael Jonsson at Hedone. And I rest easy, knowing I probably wouldn’t have the amazing wife and children I have today, if I’d started cooking in my twenties.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A spoon – you need to taste everything. Closely followed by a pair of chopsticks for the same reason!

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Peking Duck, pancakes, sauce, cucumber and spring onions.

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
GBM for two reasons. As a chef, I like to see the higher level of skill and ingenuity. And as a former MasterChef contestant, I know what happens behind the scenes, so it has lost its entertainment appeal a bit for me.

Most overrated food?
Oysters. It especially annoys me when people claim not to like sushi, but happily eat oysters.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Dan Leppard, David Lebovitz, Peter Kay, Barrack Obama, and Barrack Obama’s tailor.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Half a pint of milk and a chocolate digestive in pre-school. I hate drinking milk, and it turned out chocolate digestives were a special treat that day. It was plain digestives after that.

Tipple of choice?
It totally depends on my mood and the situation. I’ll never turn down a cup of tea! If I have an hour to myself, I’ll have a pint of beer in my local pub, but since opening my restaurant, I’ve developed a taste for cocktails. I never liked them when I was in my twenties, mainly because I was impatient, but I love a short, strong cocktail like a Martinez, Sazerac or Old Fashioned. A cocktail at home has become a treat and little luxury to look forward to, now that I’ve rediscovered Friday nights at home for the first time in years!

Favourite food and drink pairing?
I love Honjozo Genshu sake and a strong cheese such as a good mature cheddar, gruyere or Worcester hop.

What is the worst meal you’ve cooked at home?
Years ago I tried to make a Thai green curry paste without looking up a recipe. I knew what flavours it should have so all the ingredients were there, but I didn’t have a clue about the technique so I stuck it in a blender and when it wouldn’t blend, I threw in a load of oil and ended up with a gloopy, oily mess. More recently, I brought home some of the contents of the walk-in fridge as I couldn’t bear the thought of them going to waste during lockdown or the mouldy mess I’d have to clear up weeks later. I made a pork belly and brussel sprout stew. My wife barely touched it. Never again.

Where will be your first meal out post lockdown?
Assuming staff meal at my own restaurant doesn’t count, I hope I can get to London for crispy fried prawn heads and natto temaki rolls at Moshi Moshi in Liverpool Street. And then I’ll probably trot across town to Medlar for a tarte tatin with crème fraiche sorbet, followed by aged gruyere.

How are you keeping busy?
My wife is a doctor, so I’ve been looking after our three children at home. We have two older ones who I’m home schooling. We also have a two year old who brings us joy and laughs but she just doesn’t get it so keeping her amused and out of the way can try my patience. We’re lucky to have a garden so we’ve made a list of projects for when the sun is shining, such as a treehouse den, a garden patch and I’ve built an outdoor dining table out of timber reclaimed from a garden shed that was falling down.

Houseparty or Zoom?
Zoom. I haven’t tried Houseparty. Our main problem is internet speed. We don’t have 3G reception, let alone 4G, in our village and the broadband is usually under 1 MBPS.

What boxset are you watching?
I’ve just finished Succession and it was the best TV series I have ever watched which makes it hard for anything else to compete! But Killing Eve is keeping me happy on Monday nights now.

What’s the one ingredient you always have in your kitchen at home?
Cheese – we almost never have it in the restaurant kitchen – although we have recently tried Tomme de Fumee in our okonomiyaki. And I like to have miso, I find it more versatile and less intrusive than soy sauce for seasoning non Japanese dishes, such as soups and casseroles.

What one ingredient would you stockpile?
Bread flour. Baking bread is another kitchen skill that has lain fallow while I’ve been concentrating on Japanese food in the restaurant. First thing I did after lockdown was announced was to get a starter going. My loaves have steadily improved with practice. It’s ironic that when everyone wants to bake at home, no one can get any flour. You can easily get cheap loaves of bread in the supermarket, but fortunately my children have now been converted to real bread. I have just managed to trade a radio interview for a 16kg bag of bread flour from Shipton Mill, which is just a mile from my house.

If you'd like to find out details about Andrew Kojima's debut book, click here​.

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