Marking the first in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants pre-announced special awards, Tokyo’s Natsuko Shoji has been crowned Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022. Throughout her career in world-class kitchens and at the helm of her own restaurant Été, Shoji has honed an inimitable cuisine inspired by meticulous French technique, Japanese flavours and an unmistakable taste for haute couture. Shoji guides 50 Best through the recipes and inspirations for the signature dishes that made her name
After spending her formative years training under Hiroyasu Kawate of Florilège, ranked No.39 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, Natsuko Shoji decided to take a bold leap at the age of 24.
With the opening of her own restaurant, Été, in the centre of her hometown of Tokyo in 2014, Shoji began carving her own path as chef-patron and restaurateur and set her heart on a new challenge, stating, “next for me, is to become Asia’s Best Female Chef”.
Being awarded Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2020 took her another step towards her goal, which today becomes complete as she is named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022.
Her intimate six-seater restaurant and cake laboratory gave Shoji the space and opportunity to develop her own style and showcase her showstopping pastry dishes. “Your success is not measured by how big and famous you are,” says Shoji. “Your success is measured by the happy customers and the smile on their faces – the rest will fall into place.”
Natsuko Shoji at her Collaboration Dinner at Tori No Su in Abu Dhabi for Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants 2022
Eight years later and now with a second huge accolade to her name, her values have not wavered. Eternally modest, she attributes her success to her team and her diners. “I’m so happy because it was one of my biggest goals. I’m very grateful to my staff, customers and to my mother for supporting me throughout my journey,” she says.
As one of the most accomplished chefs in Asia, Shoji has become a trailblazer for women in the industry across Japan and the wider continent – her successes have encouraged many to follow in her footsteps. “The award means a lot to me,” she explains. “I want to positively impact, inspire and hopefully become a role model for all of the female chefs out there, especially because the number is still very small in Japan.”
Ranked at No.83 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 extended list, Été is so named as it is the French iteration of Shoji’s first name, meaning ‘summer’ in kanji characters. These two longstanding gastronomic influences combine in Shoji’s complex 10-course tasting menu.
Below, the chef explains the thought process behind some of her iconic dishes:
1. Sea urchin tart
“I started my restaurant Été as a tart shop, selling a square-shape mango tart that looks like a jewellery box. To commemorate our beginnings, we serve a square savoury tart as the start of the meal.
“This is a sea urchin tart. The base is light with crisp pastry and is topped with fresh, creamy sea urchin that melts in your mouth, a spice mix I found and learnt about in Thailand, cured duck egg yolk and Jinhua ham for additional layers of umami.”
2. Ayu (sweetfish) taco with fruit salsa
“In Japan, summer is the season for sweetfish: many Japanese restaurants serve the fish grilled or deep-fried. It’s a seasonal delicacy, almost like white truffles in autumn for Europeans.
“I’d like for my guests to enjoy this typical Japanese flavour and I want to make it approachable, so I transform it into a taco, which is loved worldwide. I remove its small bones, sandwich it with courgette, roll it with filo pastry, then pan fry it until it turns golden brown.
“To accompany the dish, there’s salsa made with fruit and a brown sauce made using sweetfish liver, which I like because of its bitterness, and mayonnaise.”
3. Caviar mille feuille
“While I trained as a chef, I also create pastries. I wanted to make something which represents myself and I formulated the idea of combining pastry techniques into a savoury dish. The base has thick, crispy layers of ‘feuilletage inverse’, shallot mousse and gooseberry pickles. It’s topped with caviar that resembles black diamonds. Lemon curd is served on the side. It’s a marriage of sweet and savoury and of culinary and pastry techniques.”
4. Fen zheng rou (steamed pork with rice flour)
“My restaurant is one table only, ‘haute couture’ style, so many of my dishes were born from the personal memories of my diners.
"This dish is a tribute to a special guest who has been supporting me since the restaurant’s opening. Once, he told me that he likes the Chinese dish fen zheng rou so I wanted to surprise him with my version.
“I toast glutinous rice and make a powder, which I flavour with consommé and fond (the flavoured broth obtained from deglazing a pan). Then, I wrap pork with the flavoured powder and steam it.”
5. Crispy scale amadai (tilefish) and white asparagus soup
“To make this dish, I remove some scales from the tilefish and pan-fry it until the remaining scales become crispy. The soup is made with white asparagus, salt and water, like a consommé.
“The hot soup is served first and the freshly fried tilefish are added one by one. As the tilefish is so hot, the sound, steam and the aromas effervesce from the asparagus consommé.
“This is a dish that focuses on the crustacea-like scent of the scales, fluffy meat of the tilefish and delicate aroma of the asparagus.”
Now watch the video with Natsuko Shoji, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022 winner:
Are you looking forward to the announcement of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna? Browse the website and join the community on Instagram, follow us on Facebook, visit us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date with the latest news and announcements.