There are many great French restaurants in New York. But it’s hard to find classic dishes in a city where “classic” often sounds like “old-fashioned.”
However, if you go to France, the truly classic French cuisine you encounter looks different: precise, exquisite, unpretentious and timeless.
Yuu Shimano is one of the few chefs in New York who received a solid education in France and knows how to cook real classic French cuisine.
If you’ve ever dined at Mifune in Manhattan, you may have found his style in the modern French-Japanese cuisine where he served as executive chef.
On May 19, also his 41stst birthday, Shimano opens its own place called Restaurant Yuu in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
He studied French at a top culinary school in Japan and its campus in Lyon, France. After graduating in 2002, he returned to Japan and worked for seven years in renowned French restaurants in Tokyo and Kobe, then returned to France. He worked under top chefs and became chef de partie for meats and sauces, an important position, at Guy Savoy in Paris with three Michelin stars (now two stars).
With his proven ability, Shimano began to dream of opening his own restaurants in Paris. But there were already several successful Japanese chefs there. One of them and his close friend told him: “I have already made your dream come true. You should do something that no one has done before.”
While contemplating his future, Shimano was asked to become the executive chef at the newly opened Mifune restaurant in Manhattan. He moved to New York in 2017 to explore the opportunity.
Now, six years later, he aims to achieve something unprecedented: to become a great Japanese chef, cooking classic French in New York.
Shimano, however, was hesitant to commit to this goal earlier. “I’m not French. I don’t cook in Japan. Am I the right person to become successful in this city? I wasn’t sure,” says Shimano.
Then his friend César Ramirez of The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, which has three Michelin stars, told him: “I’m Mexican, I cook with Japanese ingredients in New York. You can do it.”
“He does what he says.”
Facing McCarren Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Yuu Restaurant is an airy space with high ceilings and large windows, connecting guests and the nature of the park.
Guests are seated at a counter with 18 seats, which overlooks the spacious open kitchen. Dinner service starts at six for everyone – just like in the theater. Once the show starts, guests can watch the orchestrated workflow of the kitchen team while enjoying the conversations.
The menu consists of about 20 dishes, and after dinner guests are invited to relax on the generously arranged lounge sofas behind the counter.
“Most investors would say, ‘Set up more tables to increase revenue.’ But that’s not what I wanted. I want to offer the whole experience of relaxation and excitement apart from the delicious food. I am lucky to have a great team of supporters who understand my values.”
This “big fan team” seems to be the key to Shimano’s success so far. People who know him admire his talent for maintaining a strong network of individuals who trust him.
Yuu Shimano does what it says – it’s a reputation it’s built over decades.
For example, one of those supporters is a childhood friend of his who confidently invested a substantial amount of money in a new restaurant; Shimano met his pastry chef Masaki Takahashi at a pop-up event in Japan years ago and said to each other, “Let’s create something great together one day.” Shimano kept his word and contacted him when he decided to open his restaurant.
Trust is mutual. When Shimano couldn’t define the concept of a new restaurant, it was Takahashi who pushed the riskier direction of fine dining instead of a safer, more casual dining style.
“It was a risky idea for him too. But he pushed it and made my vision clear,” says Shimano. “I didn’t listen to anyone and I tried to do everything. But in the end I learned that I can’t achieve anything on my own.”
He worked in several restaurants with Michelin stars in France. “One of the chefs I worked for had the attitude of constantly reminding the chefs, ‘I’m great and you should be honored to be here.’ I don’t want to be that kind of chef.”
Classic French cuisine inspired by famous tastes
The restaurant Yuu Shimano serves French cuisine. “It’s not modern French or modern American, or Japanese-French,” he says definitively.
But you will definitely notice that there are Japanese components in his dishes.
“The members of our kitchen are all Japanese. When we think about the menu, the flavor inspirations often come naturally from Japanese ingredients because they are very familiar to us.”
For example, the menu’s “Eel, Foie Gras” is a combination of sautéed foie gras and eel, flavored with a sweet soy-based sauce used in traditional Japanese grilled eel dishes called kabayaki. “Foie gras normally goes well with the sweetness of fruit. We thought that Japanese eel sauce could offer a new dimension with its umami,” says Shimano. Also, throw in a cube of daikon braised with bonito flakes to lighten the richness of the dish and add a subtle smokiness.
The dish is topped with crunchy sunchoke chips for their natural aroma and vanilla-like earthiness, as well as ground coffee beans that balance the bitterness and sweetness of the sauce.
“Duck Pie” is another dish that represents his style and way of thinking. He cooks a whole duck aged in house by poaching. “Duck becomes uniformly tender by poaching. Baking is easier, but I love the challenge of making the perfect dish,” he says.
Raising the status of the hospitality industry
“One day I want to get three Michelin stars with my team,” says Shimano.
But his ultimate goal is to raise the status of the hospitality industry.
“During the pandemic, I was very impressed by how much the French government respected the restaurant industry and immediately took measures to support it. But not every country has sufficiently recognized how much this industry contributes financially and culturally,” he says. “Japan was far behind France.”
Shimano felt that one way to change Japan’s status quo was to improve the image of the industry. “I’m just an ordinary Japanese guy from a small town in Japan, but I’ve worked very hard to make my dream come true. If I become a top chef on the world stage, I can inspire future generations that will raise the status of the Japanese restaurant industry,” he says.
“It might sound funny that I became the head chef. But 20 years ago, I became fixated on a TV interview with legendary French chef Alain Ducasse. I never imagined that food could influence the world through magnificent restaurants and hotels.”
Yuu Shimano does what it says.
Let’s see how quickly he will achieve his goals.
Forbes – Lifestyle