The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Gion Japanese Restaurant
Providing Japanese cuisine that local customers can appreciate
Auckland / New Zealand
Offering the taste of authentic Japanese food to local customers
The number of visitors to Japan from New Zealand has recently been increasing rapidly, with 94,000 people visiting in 2019. Perhaps because of their national character, these travelers tend to like regional areas; they naturally go sightseeing around Japan, and return home after trying various food ingredients and Japanese dishes. Previously in New Zealand, many of the available Japanese dishes were fried or boiled. There was a time when, rather than being original Japanese cuisine, what was described as "Japanese food" was actually made from local ingredients or processed ingredients from other countries. However, recently New Zealanders have experienced the taste of authentic Japanese food in Japan, and so the more Japanese-made ingredients are used, the more customers appreciate Japanese cuisine. Parnell Road—which is located just east of Auckland city center, and has a stylish array of stores—is lined with international restaurants, including Indian, Italian and French. Here you can find the Gion Japanese Restaurant, which offers popular Japanese cuisine to local customers. Owner chef Mr. Kugue feels that recently customers are able to tell whether genuine Japanese-made food ingredients, especially seasoning, have been used. As the restaurant is close to the sea, it uses fresh seafood throughout the year, offering a wide range of appealing Japanese cuisine, from sushi, sashimi, tempura and boiled food, through to Japanese Wagyu beef dishes.
Match between Japanese-made food ingredients and sake
There is also a recent boom in sake exports, and at Gion, many famous sake brands are available. Because their country of origin is Japan, Japanese-made food ingredients and sake are extremely well matched. Around ten years ago, customers usually ordered food and wine, but in recent years there has been a rapid increase in the number of people who order sake right from the start. Some customers order sake with izakaya-style dinners, such as dishes made with scallops from Japan, and vegetable or boiled seafood dishes seasoned carefully with Japanese-made seasonings. Some local repeat customers enjoy the match between Japanese cuisine and sake in an Japanese-style inner room where around 12 people can have a relaxing time.
Still continuing to teach about Japanese food culture
In his youth, chef Mr. Kugue trained for four years at a sushi restaurant in Kyoto.
He traveled to New Zealand on a working holiday visa in 1996, and taking advantage of his experience with sushi, got a job at a sushi/sashimi stall in Auckland’s largest fresh fish retailer. Here, he gained an understanding of customers’ needs, regarding local types of fish, sushi, and sashimi, and was furthermore selected exclusively as the chef for the seafood cooking school run by the retailer, while also working as an instructor teaching local people about Japanese cuisine. In 2006, he left the retailer, which he had worked at for ten years, and in the same year established the Gion Restaurant as owner chef. He has won numerous restaurant awards, and is still offering pure Japanese cuisine to local people.
Continuing to establish Japanese food culture
The Herald is New Zealand’s largest newspaper. Ten years ago, Japanese food ranked first among the top five cuisine categories searched on the internet, beating Indian, Thai, Chinese and Italian. The Japanese food boom has not waned since then, and it can be said that Japanese food has clearly taken root in the area. Chef Mr. Kugue has a convincing motto, which is that by focusing on the active use of Japanese-made food ingredients while offering dishes made from local ingredients such as seafood and vegetables, he can increase the number of repeat customers. He hopes that local people who have begun to know the taste of Japan will aim to further elevate the level of Japanese food through the quality and flavor of Japanese-made ingredients.