Amsterdam has so many wonderful things to boast about. Beautiful buildings. Loads of history & culture. A laid-back vibe. Attractive residents (if we do say so ourselves). But there's one category where we haven't always shone: stellar Japanese food. Sure, there were mediocre sushi joints & fast-casual ramen spots dotted throughout the city, but there was nowhere you could get the quality & precision we look for in great Japanese food. Until Yamazato & Sazanka burst onto the scene.
The attention to detail at Yamazato & Sazanka is unparalleled, as are the level of service & the food itself. It's truly one of those places that feels special, transportative even. But don't take our word for it. Book a table and see for yourself! And while you wait, get a window into the wonderful world of Yamazato & Sazanka through the eyes of Masanori, the executive chef.
gloobles: Hi Masanori! We are super excited to chat with you. Can you describe your culinary journey for us? How did you come to become chef at Yamazato & Sazanka?
Masanori: My interest in food started at an early age. My parents, owning their own bookstore, didn’t have much time to cook, so we went out for dinner a lot, and I got acquainted with many different tastes & dishes. I initially started working as a porter at Hotel Okura Tokyo but got the opportunity to do a one-year training course in the kitchen. Curious to learn more about Europe, I decided to continue my career in Amsterdam in 1984. In Japan, it could take 3 to 5 years before someone is able to grow into a new position, while in the Netherlands you’ve a bigger chance to grow. Moreover, in traditional kitchens, it is more likely that someone fulfils one specific position for the remainder of his career. For many years I was trained by Yamazato’s previous Executive Chef Akira Oshima. I learned a lot from Oshima, especially techniques, skills & speed. In 2002, I returned to Japan to gain knowledge & experience, and in 2005, I came back to Amsterdam as Chef de Cuisine of Yamazato. Since 2010, I have been responsible for the traditional Japanese Yamazato Restaurant & Teppanyaki Restaurant Sazanka, Okura’s other Japanese restaurant. Being the first traditional Japanese restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in Europe in 2002, Yamazato serves the refined authentic haute cuisine of Japan, kaiseki ryōri.
gloobles: Ah, that's super interesting! It must've been quite a change for you, moving to Amsterdam. You mentioned that Yamazato is the first traditional Japanese restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in Europe. Does that make for a lot of pressure for you?
Masanori: I am very proud to be the Executive Chef & Manager of the first traditional Japanese restaurant outside Japan that has been awarded a Michelin star.
- gloobles: Rightly so. We would be proud too. Were you always interested in cooking only Japanese food?
Masanori: Privately, I am interested in all different kinds of cuisine. I like easy & fresh food, especially Chinese, Korean & Italian. Professionally, I have always been interested in traditional Japanese cooking.
gloobles: We suppose it also helps set you apart since it is so specialised. Where do you source your ingredients from? It must be tough considering we’re so far away from Japan!
Masanori: Nowadays it is easier to get products from Japan & other places around the world. Some fish, rice, vegetables & wagyu come from Japan. We always aim to get the highest quality products. The connection with nature is very important in Japanese culture, which is why we don’t use only traditional Japanese ingredients but also incorporate Dutch seasonal food into our menus – such as white asparagus in our spring menu.
gloobles: We love that. I think that helps make Yamazato & Sazanka an integral part of Amsterdam's fabric. Every single detail in every dish at your restaurants feels just perfect. This also extends to the beautiful kimonos the staff wear, the minimal Japanese interior & the lovely entryway. Do you think this changes the food experience?
Masanori: Meticulous attention to detail is very important in the Japanese culture. In kaiseki cuisine, it is crucial to create dishes that are in absolute harmony with the season. This also applies to the flowers in the dining areas, tableware & kimonos of the waitresses. This certainly complements guests' experiences, as they feel that every need is anticipated.
- gloobles: You're absolutely right. You feel taken care of in a really unique way. What do you think of the state of Japanese food in the Netherlands?
Masanori: When Hotel Okura Amsterdam, and simultaneously Yamazato, opened its doors in 1971, Japanese culture was still fairly unfamiliar in the Netherlands & poorly understood. The first years were hard, as the Japanese chefs found a food culture that was rather different than what they had been accustomed to. Many products, including rice, vegetables & fish, were flown in from Japan. Because of the cost involved, this was not a sustainable solution. The chefs did their best to find sufficient European products, and, where necessary, they helped food producers to upgrade the quality of their produce. The attention that was given to acquiring the highest quality ingredients, as well as the total dedication to the preparation & presentation, finally conquered the hearts of the Europeans. Nowadays, you will find more & more Japanese restaurants in the Netherlands. Ramen & sushi restaurants are extremely popular. People are more used to Asian cuisine. So we are very proud & grateful that guests are interested in authentic Japanese cuisine as well.
- gloobles: And how about the culinary scene in Amsterdam?
Masanori: Amsterdam offers a great variety of international cuisine. There are more modern restaurants than classic, and guests have lots of choice in Amsterdam. I think the culinary scene in Amsterdam has grown tremendously.
- gloobles: We think it gets better each & every day. Who or what inspires you?
Masanori: I certainly get inspired by the seasons. The connection with nature is also very important in Japanese culture, which is why we also incorporate Dutch seasonal food into our menus. Moreover, the connection with nature can also be found in the decoration of a dish, e.g. the brilliantly coloured autumn leaves in our autumn menu, and the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. Not only our menus are influenced by the season; the flowers in the dining areas, tableware & kimonos of the waitresses change according to the season.
- gloobles: Ahh, that's incredible! We didn't realise the kimonos changed too. Do you go back to Japan often?
Masanori: Yes, I visit Japan often to recruit Japanese chefs for Yamazato & Sazanka. In addition, I go to Japan to visit restaurants for inspiration.
- gloobles: If you’re not eating at Yamazato or Sazanka, where do you like to eat in Amsterdam?
Masanori: I really like Chinatown in Amsterdam, especially New King, where I order the Suikau Dumpling.
- gloobles: We have to check it out! Alright, last question. What’s your favourite Japanese restaurant in the world?
Masanori: I have visited a lot of Michelin star restaurants in Japan. My all-time favourite is Kamba, a three-Michelin star restaurant that serves kaiseki cuisine in Tokyo.