Through years of patient work, chef Shinobu Namae has inadvertently turned into a leader in Japan’s movement for a more conscious way of cooking. Beyond his work as a sustainability-aware chef, he is also an advocate for a deeper connection with nature and farmers, as well as holding a presence as a notable food researcher and academic. His achievements at his restaurant L’Effervescence and his influence as a role model across the Asian continent see him bestowed with the Icon Award 2023.
Born in Yokohama, in his youth Namae studied the politics of developing countries at Keio University in Tokyo. His first job in hospitality was as a dishwasher at a small Italian joint to help fund his life as a student, but that initial, casual meeting with gastronomy would later blossom into a full-blown romance. He worked his way up the ranks, travelled to the US on culinary research trips and later settled for five years at French chef Michel Bras’ place, the now-closed Toya Japon in Hokkaido.
Between 2008 and 2010, Namae moved to the unassuming town of Bray in the UK’s countryside to work alongside Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, widely considered one of the most innovative restaurants in the world. Fascinated by a type of gastronomy that went beyond the obvious to explore new connections with ingredients, science and society, he moved back to Tokyo to begin building a restaurant on his own terms.
L'Effervescence – a modern and minimalist dining room where dynamic lighting and select natural elements put the focus on the food – has been a mainstay in Tokyo’s restaurant scene for 13 years. Here, Namae has crafted his own brand of cuisine with deep roots in Japan’s produce, a heartfelt respect for the country’s millennia-old traditions and techniques inspired by France and Europe.
Namae’s ethos is transparent in all his dishes, but none more so than his signature ‘Fixed Point’: a Tokyo turnip cooked for four hours and served with parsley, ham and a soft brioche. The chef boasts of its low carbon footprint, as well as its lightness compared to many other signature dishes, which often feature heavy protein or carbohydrates. In its simplicity, the dish upends many of the notions often associated with fine dining.
Beyond L’Effervescence, which has been voted into nine editions of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and received the Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2018 as well as the Highest Climber Award in 2021, Namae is also the supervisor of Bricolage Bread & Co., a boulangerie in Tokyo where flour and seasonal ingredients are sourced directly from farmers in Hokkaido, Shiga, Chiba and other Japanese artisanal heartlands.
The chef’s passion to reduce fine dining’s impact on climate change has seen him involved with WWF Japan on initiatives to reduce illegal fishing as well as invited to speak at the United Nations’ World Ocean Day conference in New York. In 2021, Namae went back to academia to pursue a doctorate in Microeconomics of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo, whose thesis he submitted in early 2023.
As he prepares to tackle any and all new challenges on his way to meaningfully contributing to a better future for gastronomy, Namae is inspiring diners and cooks across Asia to do better – an achievement alone worthy of the Icon Award 2023.
Now read the interview with Namae on 50 Best Stories and watch the video:
The Icon Award is voted for by the 300-plus members of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy and honours culinary icons who have made an outstanding contribution to the restaurant industry.