San Tori restaurant located on Podil in Kyiv has been working hard to introduce and popularize Pan-Asian cuisine for more than twenty years. “Usually when you ask locals about Japanese cuisine, all they know is sushi,” — says the restaurant’s chef Takashi Kobayashi. His colleague chef Dodo backs up the statement — his native Thai cuisine is just as underrepresented in Ukraine. The two chefs are determined to change the situation for better.
Some people say that cooking is the most versatile art. When did you realize that it was your calling?
Kobayashi: I went to a cooking school in Japan and received a chef’s license approved by the government. My path is a bit different from the Ukrainian way — I know that many locals want to work in this sphere but only some people have a real chance to go to other countries to study.
Dodo: As for me, that decision was a long time ago. I went to a cooking school as well, and then worked as a chef in Dubai.
I know you've been working in San Tori for quite a long time. How do you like it in Ukraine?
Photo: Dodo at his workplace
Kobayashi: I’ve been working here for twenty years. The first time I came in Ukraine, there were no Japanese restaurants, only a few Chinese ones.
Dodo: No Thai cuisine either.
Kobayashi: Yes, true. So we’ve opened the first Japanese restaurant in Ukraine. In two-three years, more restaurants had popped here and there, and now you have plenty of choices. But twenty years ago? (laughs) No supermarkets, no restaurants, no cellphones — nothing at all. The situation is much better nowadays, of course.
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What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Kobayashi: That it is my job, and it will be that way forever (laughs). In Kyiv, Japanese restaurants are mostly represented by sushi bars, but it’s not the only Japanese dish that is out there.
Ramen is also getting quite popular in Kyiv.
Kobayashi: Yeah, ramen too (laughs) But you know, it’s not a high class dish. I want people to get familiar with the traditional Japanese cuisine, not only sushi or ramen. When it comes to Ukrainians, how different are their food preferences from other nations?
Kobayashi: I think about 30 years ago people here had the same dishes every day: soup, salad, borsch...Ukrainian food isn’t particularly interesting for me, you know (laughs). The Japanese and Thai cuisine is much more diverse.
What dish of the Pan-Asian cuisine would you definitely recommend for both first-timers and those who are already familiar with this cuisine?
Photo: San Tori restaurant
Kobayashi: Okay, drop sushi (laughs). Everyone knows it. I’d like to cook sashimi for our guests. In Japan, we have fresh fish every day — ripe fish, actually. That’s why I’d make sashimi from ripe squid or fish.
Dodo: There’s really a lot to recommend, you know.
Kobayashi: Japanese and Thai, we both like noodles a lot — there are so many kinds of them in both of these cuisines.
Dodo: Right, so I’d suggest Pad Thai noodles. Also, various kinds of soups — for instance, Tom Kha Kai with coconut milk and chicken and Tom Yum Kung with prawns. The last one is really popular.
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Alright, duly noted! To wrap it up, what are your plans in Ukraine?
Kobayashi: Oh, I won’t stay for long here. It’s already been twenty years. Maybe I’ll go back to Japan, but I’d like to go to another country, like Thailand.
Dodo: Sure, come over.
Kobayashi: But if I marry a Ukrainian woman, I’ll stay here for sure (laughs)
Dodo: Same here!
Broadening horizons, including gastronomical ones, connects people and makes day-to-day life more vibrant, so we hope more authentic restaurants will appear in Ukraine soon.
Interviewed by Kate Pryliuk
Photos by Yuriy Zaluzhniy