Akiyama Tokuzō(1888-1974) was a Japanese-French chef who served as imperial chef for the Taisho and Showa emperors. His life story was made into a novel and a TV series, so he’s popular in Japan.
Akiyama was born in Takefu, Fukui. He was the second son of a couple who ran a restaurant, and he was very mischievous when he was young. He went to live in a Zen temple when he was 10 because he admired a young Zen monk. There he practiced Zen meditation, chanted Buddhist sutras, and did religious mendicancy. However, he was forced out of the temple a year later because of his mischief. Then, he got interested in his family business of cooking.
One day, Akiyama met a person who changed his life.
One day, he went to a military barracks because the restaurant he worked at made dishes for the soldiers. When he went to the dining room, he saw some dishes that he hadn’t seen before. They smelled very nice, too. He asked a soldier, who was cooking, what they were and found out that it was Western cuisine. He was impressed by its beauty and nice aromas.
Akiyama admired the soldier and started following him. The soldier was very busy, but he was happy to talk about Western cuisine with Akiyama. As a result of this encounter, Akiyama decided to become a Western chef.
When Akiyama was 16, he went to Tokyo to learn about Western cuisine. At that time, being a chef was very tough. Whenever he made a mistake, he was kicked in the leg or hit on the head by other chefs. However, he was passionate about Western cuisine, so he didn’t care about the physical punishment.
However, he began thinking that he should go to a Western country to learn Western cuisine.
When he was 20, he went to Paris. It was very rare for Japanese chefs to go to Paris to learn Western cuisine at the time because going abroad was very difficult.
Akiyama learned how to make French dishes at various restaurants, including some of the finest restaurants in Paris. At the Ritz Hotel he worked under Auguste Escoffier, who is known as the father of modern French cuisine. Akiyama loved France because chefs had high social status there, unlike in Japan. He made up his mind to live the rest of his life in Paris.
However, in 1914, the enthronement ceremony of the Taisho Emperor was held in Japan. Akiyama was asked to work as the emperor’s master chef in Japan, so he decided to go back to Japan. He became the emperor’s master chef when he was 29.
After that, he worked as the emperor’s master chef for 55 years.
What kind of person was Akiyama?
He was a tidy person. When he made sandwiches for the emperor, he made them perfectly square.
What kind of food does the emperor eat every day?
The emperor eats ordinary meals like everyone else. For example, one morning the emperor had toast, oatmeal, cornflakes, salad, steamed vegetables, tea, coffee, and juice.
The emperor never told Akiyama what he wanted to eat. He didn’t say what he liked or disliked, either, so Akiyama observed the leftover food and guessed what he liked.
One day, a man asked Akiyama, “You’ve cooked for the emperor for several decades. It must be hard to have peace of mind. Do you sleep well at night?”
Akiyama answered that he was fine and always at ease. This is because he did his best with every meal, so he had no worries or regrets.
Akiyama wrote that the secret to good cooking is sincerity and attentiveness. You have to pay attention to a lot of things when you cook. He wrote that 90 percent of cooking is attentiveness.
Once, Akiyama made a mistake when he was cooking for the emperor. He used a thread to shape the food, but he forgot to remove it before serving it to the emperor. He regretted it and realized that he’d made the mistake because he wasn’t attentive enough.
Akiyama decided to become a Western chef when he met a soldier who made Western dishes. He learned Western cuisine in Paris, and after returning to Japan worked as the emperor’s master chef for more than half a century. He was a man who devoted his life to the emperor.
「日曜劇場 天皇の料理番 公式レシピブック」（編集：北坂和浩）（ぴあ株式会社）
TBS website: https://www.tbs.co.jp/tenno_no_ryoriban/interview/interview13.html