Its 2pm, on a Thursday afternoon and Ryoichi Saito is talking a mile a minute. As the new owner and jack-of-all-trades at the relaunched Fujitei in St Kilda, Ryoichi has directions to give and ingredients to prepare, tables to set and standards to uphold. His quick-fire conversation speaks volumes of his years in the hospitality industry getting things done, keeping everyone on their toes and making sure that when the doors open come evening, everything is perfect.
Ryoichi, Japanese born and Australian bred, is a cross-cultural innovator. His new take on traditional Japanese food is all about showing diners what the cuisine can do when combined with local produce. The reason I took over Fujitei is to expand on what is understood as Japanese cuisine, says Ryoichi. Traditionally Japanese cooking has been very much about discipline and being conservative; things are done a certain way and never changed. But a new generation of chefs are coming up who have been trained by the so-called stubborn chefs of the past, they are using local ingredients and applying their knowledge to make new creations.
And for Ryoichi, the timing of his takeover couldnt be better. Modern Australian diners are more educated about Japanese cuisine now than ever before, he says. Most people are open to trying sashimi and other things that might have seemed too unusual even just a few years ago. Diners now bring a lot of experience to the table themselves they know what good quality fresh fish should taste like, they understand the textures and flavours very well.
Ryoichi is also dealing with a clientele that has, more likely than not, been to Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is increasingly the holiday destination of choice for adventurous Aussies. And what most people report back on is the Japanese peoples impeccable hospitality and attention to detail – a quality Ryoichi is passionate about replicating at Fujitei. In Japan we are always aiming for something higher, he says. From the way we greet our customers to what we serve them, there is a sense of striving. Even if we make a mistake, we value honesty and integrity. And the concept of leading by example is very strong which is something I actively practice here at Fujitei.
The result is a dining experience that will introduce diners to an expressive and inventive range of flavours that are both familiar and new. We want people to try a bit of everything, so our menu invites people to try our approach to Kaiseki Fusion thats our take on Japans seasonal dining but with small plates designed to be shared, he says. And while the concept of share plates isnt native to the Japanese style of dining out, thats just one of the ways Ryoichi is tweaking the traditions to push the cuisine in new directions. Fujitei is always thinking about holding the new and the old in balance, he says. But the discipline and tradition that underpins the cuisine is what drives us to always improve and refine what we do.
17 Wellington St, St Kilda VIC 3182 | (03) 9529 8505