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Hideki Matsuhisa: “My philosophy is to work, not chase stars”

Hideki Matsuhisa: “My philosophy is to work, not chase stars”

Hideki Matsuhisa © ffmag

Born in Toyota (Japan) in 1972, Hideki Matsuhisa is the only Japanese chef with a Michelin star in Spain (Koy Shunka, Barcelona). He manages several restaurants in Barcelona, as well as in Belgium and Andorra. The chef has now arrived in Formentera with a new gastronomic project that will fuse the best of Mediterranean and Japanese gastronomy using local products. The restaurant Kokoy by Hideki Matsuhisa is located within the first five-star hotel on the island, the new Five Flowers hotel.

What is Hideki Matsuhisa like, inside and outside the kitchen?
I’m almost always in the kitchen so there’s not a big difference. I work even on my day off. I run businesses in Barcelona, Belgium, Andorra and now also in Formentera. I like the kitchen a lot. For me, cooking is not working because I enjoy what I do so much. I’m often unsure of where work starts and pleasure ends. They are closely aligned…

I’m often unsure of where work starts and pleasure ends

What makes you happy?
Working with a team of curious professionals who have an eye on the future. I want to form a friendly, honest and, above all, hard-working team in Formentera.

How would you define Kokoy’s gastronomic concept?
I think we should adapt to the tastes and preferences of the island’s diners, weather, summer season… My kitchen always changes with the seasons, so for this restaurant I have designed a menu that reflects summer. My Formentera kitchen will be influenced by my Barcelona kitchen, but Kokoy will not be Koy Shunka. I think that we are going to create many new things here, because, although many of the ingredients will be bought from abroad, I also want to take advantage of the products from Formentera. I want to merge my kitchen with what the island offers.

Hideki Matsuhisa© ffmag

What kind of local product would you like to work with?
In Formentera there is a lot of small fish and that is great for grilling and high-quality sashimi, which I will serve with sauces that are not wasabi and soy sauce, but something more Mediterranean…

I want to merge my kitchen with what the island offers

Do you think that Spain has a realistic perspective of Japanese gastronomy?
I don’t think it is easy to find a real representation of authentic Japanese cuisine in Spain. From my perspective, Japanese restaurants in Spain are very similar, and there is a lack of competition. I think most people cannot distinguish between high- and low-quality sashimi or sushi. But I imagine that this will soon change. I want to ensure that my restaurant has no competition. That’s why I’m going to make my kitchen the way I feel it, to distinguish it from the rest. We seek the highest quality raw ingredients. I don’t want to fool anyone. The mission of a chef is to offer good food. This is our obligation, not seeking money.

I’m going to make my kitchen the way I feel it, to distinguish it from the rest

How did your life change after receiving a Michelin star?
A Michelin star helps a lot, people value it and it is prestigious, but that does not mean we can stop working. Being in the right guides is important, but there are many other important facets. We are at the service of our customers. In any case, there are many excellent restaurants in Spain that do not appear in the guides or have a star. I think that if we only judge chefs on their presence in guides, we will miss out on a lot. It is impossible for Michelin guide inspectors to visit every single restaurant, so we must remember that the guide is limited. My philosophy is to work, not chase stars. I just want my customers to be happy and to want to come back.

What ingredient is always present in your kitchen?
As a Japanese chef, it is, of course, soy sauce. But one of my teachers once told me that if you work with high quality raw materials, you probably won’t need anything else. A pinch of salt will suffice. I don’t like adding too many condiments. I think that the more you put on a dish, the worse the product. My kitchen is very minimalist in terms of garnishing. I take care to be attentive to the right amount of details.

Hideki Matsuhisa© ffmag

Do you have any advice for us on how we should work with fish?
What I insist on most is the cut. If your knives are not sharp, the fish cannot be cut well, and the flavour will be spoiled. A good cut is essential to a good texture. I think that, as in everything, you need many years’ practice and training to reach a high level in gastronomy.

How many years’ experience did you need to become a master of Japanese cuisine?
I’ve been cooking for 32 years and am still learning. I am only now beginning to understand everything much better. Humans are the only animals that eat cooked food. All animals eat sashimi. If you go to Africa, you don’t see lions cooking at the barbecue. We are the only ones who know how to cut and use culinary techniques. And it seems very simple, but it is not.

All animals eat sashimi

Who has been your teacher?
My teachers have sometime been my customers. My father was also a chef, and I learned a lot from him. When I arrived in Spain 20 years ago, I learned a lot from people here, because I started to look at Japanese culture from a different perspective and to consider things that I had not before.

What was your reaction when you were asked to open a restaurant in Formentera?
When they called me to be part of the first five-star hotel in Formentera the proposal sounded exciting, if anything because being the first at something is always exciting. Then I came, and after visiting Formentera, I thought it was beautiful. I was quickly convinced when I saw where the hotel was going to be located. The view, the terrace… The entire place is incredible.

What will your diners experience at Kokoy?
I think that as soon as they see the views and surrounding area, they will fall in love. I will try to make delicious cuisine for people to enjoy. They will experience local products made into a fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine, where the focus will be the taste of the product.

Hideki Matsuhisa© ffmag

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