Endo Kazutoshi
Photo by Rebecca Dickson

Endo Kazutoshi: “Food is power”

Short Profile

Name: Endo Kazutoshi
Place of birth: Yokohama, Japan
Occupation: Chef

Mr. Kazutoshi, you once said that your goal is to wake up every day and make sushi better than the day before. Do you think that you achieve that most days?

That’s a very difficult question! I think if I could do that, I would finish my career! (Laughs) At the end of every day, I still question myself: Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do that? It’s good that there’s always tomorrow, because I’ll always have the chance to do things differently. That’s another reason why my menu changes every day. Of course, I have signature dishes that I never change because everybody would complain, but overall, having this changing menu means that we can adjust things when we want to improve. It’s like with the Michelin Guide — I got one Michelin star, but of course I’ll try to get a second star. We have to keep going forward and improving. That’s my philosophy.

What have you been working to improve lately?

Well, for example, when you’re cooking rice, every day is different! It’s impossible to do two days the same. Today, the weather is different, the humidity is different, and so the rice is different, and I have to adjust how I cook and use the rice. For chefs in Japan, you would cook the rice before the guests arrive. That’s traditional. It’s also logical, right? Japanese people love logic. But for me, I cook the rice four times throughout one service, checking the temperature, making sure it’s the right temperature for the fish. We have to be engaged with the produce and seafood we’re using, that’s how we have to think, and that’s how we innovate at my restaurant, Endo at the Rotunda.

“My version of omakase is more than just chef’s choice: I meet every guest, speak with them, I make every guest a different kind of sushi based on our meeting... It’s a collaboration.”

It sounds like you treat sushi as a craft, rather than something fixed.

Craft has to do with technique, yes. But sushi is also art, I think, it can be emotional, there’s so much passion that goes into it… To make a nice picture or painting is easy. But It’s not just about the picture, it’s about what goes into it, the story behind it, the emotions. With sushi, I don’t want to serve just a nice piece of nigiri. I have two hours with my customers, they’re paying money for this experience, so I want to create a memorable time for them. My version of omakase is more than just chef’s choice: we have around 10 seats at the restaurant, I meet every guest, speak with them, I make every guest a different kind of sushi based on our meeting, I put different fish, different flavors, different dishes based on their eating and drinking speed. It’s a collaboration.

You also offer the story behind each piece of sushi, right?

Yes, we explain what we’re doing and why, we ask that people stay off their phones so that the guests are fully engaged over two hours. Guests want to understand our philosophy, but we also want to understand what they’re looking for as well It’s not like, “I’m the chef, this is my dish, you follow me.”

I’ve noticed that you call yourself a “sushi chef” rather than a “sushi master.”

Yes, I go by sushi chef. I would never speak about myself that I’m a sushi master because I’m still learning. I think you need years — decades, even, to become a master. The master can do everything, understands everything… I think the sushi master has a kind of Zen where everything is aligned, everything is one. That’s when we can call someone a master.

You did your training and apprenticeship under one of the most renowned sushi masters in Japan, and apparently your only job for the first few years was cleaning fish and making tea.

That’s it! But the thing is that I actually ended up learning so much just by watching. After the years spent with my master, I moved to Ginza to start work at another restaurant. I got hired because everyone knew about my time with this famous sushi master. When I started work the next day, I said good morning to everyone and I went to prep their fish for them. They said, “Wait! Where are you going? Your station is here.” They pointed to where there was all these fish, all cleaned already, and there are 10 sushi chefs watching me, asking me, “Can you show us what you learned with your ex-master?” (Laughs) I’d never done anything before other than cleaning fish, but I could show them what to do because I’d spent those past four years watching and learning. I worked next to my master, so automatically I was catching so many details. This is how you truly learn.

Is it true that you weren’t so interested in pursuing career in sushi at first?

It’s true, yes. I was five years old when I started learning about sushi, and that’s because my family owns a sushi restaurant, my father and grandfather were both sushi chefs so I had a lot of pressure as the first son to take over the family business. I ended up going to university — the only one in my generation to do so — and I got a degree in teaching and a Masters in political science and psychology. Three different schools offered me jobs to come teach, but when I spoke to my parents, they said that I had two choices: take over the family business, or take my dream, but that if I took my dream, the next day, we would make a certificate to remove me from my family name. So, I would have no more family!


I couldn’t choose that… So that’s why I became a sushi chef. The first year, I was working in Tokyo, it was very bad because it’s not what I wanted. I was making very little money with no days off, waking up at 5:30 in the morning… My master saw I didn’t have the passion for this job. He told me, “Let’s work together for three years and if after three years, you’re not good enough, you can stop to work.” So I did. He took a lot of time to explain what makes this art form so interesting and I really developed my passion for it.

How do your parents feel now? You don’t work in their restaurant, but you have your own with a Michelin star. Are they happy?

In the beginning it was hard, especially because I decided I wouldn’t go back to Japan after my time spent in Spain working as a sushi chef for the Embassy. But I have a young brother and he took over the family business which is still a success, so it’s okay.

What made you decide not to go back to Japan?

Well, years ago, I actually wanted to go back to Tokyo to open Endo at the Rotunda, but a friend of mine asked me, “Why Tokyo? Omakase is everywhere in Japan. But in London, there are very few omakase restaurants. If you open an omakase restaurant in London, it’s an opportunity to bring real Japanese food to London.” She explained the bigger picture. And she was right, it has really changed things because it challenges me — I’ve spent time learning from the fishermen in Cornwall, for example, to use the local seafood like razor clams and langoustines and mackerel, which are new for me. I’m learning so much from the fishermen here, how to work with their ingredients. We get Scottish and Cornish produce. It’s a brand new experience for me, but it’s also something new for people in London.

Have you felt that your restaurant is helping to broaden people’s culinary horizons?

I believe so. It’s my responsibility to help in that respect. I’m really trying to pass along this knowledge. I hope and wish that more people would try sushi, even if it means buying some pre-made sushi at Tesco! I would never say that’s bad, because hopefully it will open the door for people to explore sushi. Maybe it leads to them wanting to try to my restaurant, or maybe it opens a door for them to visit Japan someday. I have a responsibility to help educate, to make people feel comfortable, to explain the story and history, why sushi is the way it is, why we do things the way we do… The more knowledge we share, the more it changes the way the guest perceives Japanese food. Food is power in that way.