Chef Masato Shimizu's journey through sushi began when he saw his uncle filleting a whole tuna in front of him when he was 5. His interest in the art of sushi grew and eventually inspired him to move to Tokyo for a seven-year apprenticeship at Sukeroku under the sushi master Kugou Rikio.
Taking a leap of faith, his passion led him to the concrete jungle of New York, where he was head chef at Jewel Bako for four years. By 29, Chef Masato became one of the youngest chefs honoured with a MICHELIN Star in New York City. In 2006, the Japanese chef repeated this achievement, leading the new 15 East restaurant to be awarded One MICHELIN Star.
Many years later, Chef Masato found himself in Bangkok along with his loving family. The chef currently leads the local favourite omakase-style restaurant Sushi Masato on Sukhumvit 31 in Bangkok.
The announcement of the MICHELIN Guide 2021 for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Phang-Nga on 16 December 2020 came with the delightful surprise of Sushi Masato becoming the second Japanese restaurant to be added to the One MICHELIN Star list in Thailand.
He spoke to MICHELIN Guide at this year’s revelations on his culinary philosophy, Thailand’s food scene, and his favourite Bangkok restaurants, as well as recounting the day he received this prestigious Star.
“I was very surprised when I saw the MICHELIN Guide invitation in my mailbox,” Chef Masato shared with a big smile. “They didn’t tell me we would receive anything. But, in my mind, I was like ‘Yes, I did it!’, and became overjoyed. I guessed at least we must win something. The moment the host announced that our restaurant received One MICHELIN Star, I became even more excited and energised.”
On the third time leading a restaurant to a MICHELIN Star, the chef revealed: “I’m confident the MICHELIN Star will attract more diners. We’ll be busier than before. But nothing will ever change our initial goal.” He explained, “To me, this award is such an accomplishment, but it’s not the destination. I hope we can learn and become better every day, and keep succeeding in all the steps we’ll take. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of my hard-working team.”
When asked about his culinary philosophy, Chef Masato shares four words; enjoy, happy energy, life. He explained:
“Every human needs food to nourish his or her life. If we don’t eat, we die. But, when it’s time to eat, we need good food. If we enjoy the food, we’ll smile with happiness. We’ll be happy with our lives. These define my four cooking philosophies. They give cooking a purpose, to spread happiness. Sushi Masato serves omakase sushi, but the menu doesn’t just include things chefs like or the best ingredients. To me, the important thing is creating a special time during which we need to pay attention to every detail – food, service, atmosphere, everything – to make the ultimate experience that leaves diners impressed and happy throughout the meal’s journey.”
On the current food scene in Thailand, the gleeful chef believes the country’s food industry has grown and become incredibly more exhilarating. This all happened within only a few years after MICHELIN Guide’s arrival.
“Bangkok diners are very knowledgeable. They know what good food is. Sometimes, they know more than I do! This is a chance for me to learn. It’s a challenge that makes my work more fun. Sometimes, chefs get upset when diners give them comments. But that’s not me. I think of them as people’s different tastes and as customer’s feedback. I always listen to them.”
The Japanese chef also explained and shared his observations about how passionate diners in Thailand are different. “As an omakase chef, I have to stand behind the counter. That helps me connect with diners. I notice that Thai people have a genuine interest in food. They love taking pictures of their food and are always curious to talk with chefs about food. This is different from my experiences in New York and Japan. I love how Bangkok diners show interest and exchange views with us. There is the bond that we create.”
Moving on to the favourite places in Bangkok of this newly minted MICHELIN-Starred restaurant’s head chef, Chef Shimizu said, “Despite constant contact with seafood as main ingredients of my food, I am actually a meat lover, especially grilled meat. There’s Ginzado, a yakiniku spot in Sukhumvit 26, which is a go-to place for me. Another place where my young son and I can enjoy food together is Calderazzo, which serves tasty pasta and nice cold cuts.”
When asked what Sushi Masato’s next steps are after receiving One MICHELIN Star, Chef Masato determinedly reiterated that, despite this year’s taste of victory, it was not the destination. He thought of it as a first step to future development and to improving every day. Delivering happiness to diners is the key to his next steps.