Mizumoto Masahiro first came to the Philippines 10 years ago to join a support party at the Philippine Plaza Hotel. His two-decade-long expertise in Japanese cuisine made him the perfect choice for the event, which in turn lead to his popularity in the food and beverage scene. With the high demand for authentic Japanese food in Manila, the chef finally decided to professionally settle in the capital and has since had no regrets.
Masahiro worked with several companies in the country—including a stint as Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) business class chef—until he found a partner in TV executive Kitchie Benedicto to open the famed Kitsho Japanese Restaurant and Sake Bar at Traders Hotel Manila, now rebranded as Hotel Jen.
As operations manager and head chef of the authentic Japanese food destination, Masahiro continues to thrive in the fine dining scene, and is in a word, “kissho.”
“That’s the Japanese term for happiness,” he beamed.
Sushi is one of the most sought after dishes at Kitsho precisely because Chef Masahiro prepares the rolled rice and raw seafood combination perfectly.
“The chef knows through experience that when making rolled sushi, the weight of the rice in his hand is already enough. And like pizza, sushi is best eaten with bare hands,” he revealed.
The chef told The Manila Times that he personally goes to the Pasay City market to ensure the freshness of his seafood, while his choice for sushi rice is imported directly from Japan.
“Our salmon is imported from Norway,” he added.
Kitsho’s top sashimi choices include hamachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), uni (sea urchin), ika/ikasomen (cuttlefish), tako (octopus), aji (horse mackerel), hotate (scallops), shimesaba (marinated mackerel), tai (sea bream), fresh king/Norwegian salmon, as well as live lapu-lapu and lobster.
Rolled sushi, on the other hand, comes in many varieties like kappa (cucumber), oshinko (pickled radish), kanpyo (dried gourd shavings), negitoro (ground tuna and spring onion), inari (sweet bean curd), and the popular California maki with mango, crabstick, and cucumber wrapped in sushi rice and flying fish roe.
“Anybody can claim that what they’re offering is authentic but it’s the palate that ultimately decides if it is,” said Masahiro. Those who have been to Kitsho will know that its menu’s authenticity is best proven in two aspects.
First, there is an endless clientele of Japanese diners at the restaurant.
“Guests and dignitaries of the Japanese Embassy are most often brought here to dine. And they come back, time and again,” Masahiro offered.
Secondly, he is reputed as the only chef in the country licensed to prepare a puffer fish (butete) dish, which can be poisonous if not done correctly.
Asked what his recommendations are for first-timers at Kitsho, Masahiro enumerated the following:
For appetizers, try the buta kakuni (Japanese braised pork belly), ika shiokara (pickled squid with salt), chawanmushi (steamed egg with seafood), and itawasa (sliced fish cake).
Tempura lovers, meanwhile, will relish offerings like enoki (golden needle mushroom), kaki (oyster), kanikama (crabstick), tamanegi (white onion), and kakiage (assorted sliced vegetables with dried shrimp), and the all-time favorite ebi (shrimp).
For the health-conscious, they also have yakimono (grilled) dishes like miso yaki (beef tongue in miso), enishake shioyaki (red Japanese salmon), tori (chicken) and gindara teriyaki (black cod).
The chef also recommended pairing choices with teppanyaki dishes such as waton (organic pork), yakisoba (sauteed egg noodles with vegetables and pork), okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancake), as well as US and Wagyu beef sirloin and tenderloin options.
Finally, for fans of shabu-shabu hot pot specials such as seafood kimchi or Wagyu sukiyaki are also in the menu.
Diners at Kitsho are still amazed to find out that the Japanese chef knows how to speak Filipino.
“The first words I learned were kanan (right), kaliwa (left) and diretso (straight ahead)—directions when riding a taxi,” he laughed.
The amiable chef goes home to Japan twice a year for a two-week vacation, and is proud to share that his daughter there is studying to become a doctor.
Why does he prefer Manila over Tokyo or any other Japanese metropolitan city?
“Pareho lang ang pay. Dito, libre pa housing at food. Unlike in Japan, it’s expensive,” he said candidly.
Asked what advice he has for others interested in the culinary business—be they Filipino or foreigners—he simply said, “Maintain the taste of what you offer from the very beginning.” That way, diners will be happy, not to mention the chef.
For inquiries and reservations, call (02)795-8888 local 2312 or log on to www.kitsho.com.ph.