TOKYO – Natsuko Shoji is the first Japanese chef to win the prestigious Asia’s Best Female Chef Award from the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy.
She is honored for her “elegant dishes [that] reveal her perfectionism, attention to detail and creative vision” at Été (meaning “summer” in French), her exclusive six-seater restaurant located in Shibuya.
“With her appreciation for seasonality, coupled with her brilliant aptitude for blending fashion and gastronomy, the chef’s creations embody the artistry of Japanese cuisine,” William Drew, Director of Content for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, said.
Shoji’s interest in the culinary arts began in her teen years after making cream puffs for a high school assignment. After graduation, she started her career at Florilège, the progressive French-inspired Tokyo restaurant that has been a high-flier on recent Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants lists.
Learning alongside Florilège’s chef and owner Hiroyasu Kawate, Shoji was promoted to sous chef within three years. In 2014, she opened Été, which was a modest tart shop back then. The cake shop earned near-immediate global attention and a year later she transformed the space into a four-seat, invitation-only restaurant, further raising her profile in Tokyo’s competitive dining scene.
Drawing inspiration from iconic fashion houses and designer handbags, Shoji developed a line of signature cakes, including her sought-after strawberry cake that takes its cues from Louis Vuitton’s Damier print, or the peach cake that evokes the distinctive stitching on Chanel’s Matelassé bags. With a deep appreciation for seasonality, each cake contains Japan’s prized fruit (Yuki Usagi strawberries from Saga, red Sakura Momo strawberries from Tokushima, or white Shimizu Hakutou peaches from Okayama) and is presented in a black box designed to resemble a jewelry box.
Été earned acclaim from both celebrities (among them David Beckham) and renowned chefs, including René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià.
Shoji’s status as one of the culinary world’s emerging stars was confirmed when she was named the 2020 recipient of the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef Award.
In December 2019, Été expanded to a six-seat restaurant, allowing Shoji to welcome diners into her exclusive eatery and personally serve her guests. Intimate and indulgent, Shoji’s intricately crafted 10-course menu demonstrates her meticulous approach, respect for ingredients and creative execution.
Été’s signature dishes include a salted tart topped with Hokkaido sea urchin and mimolette cheese, delicate tilefish paired with a white asparagus soup and complemented with kegani crab meat, as well as Akagyu beef with a truffle sauce and bone broth jus.
“I’m deeply grateful for this award and would like to express my gratitude to the people who have supported me. I hope to be a role model to other female chefs in Japan and trust this award will motivate them to follow their passions,” Shoji said upon accepting the award.
“I would also like to honor the other chefs who have mentored me throughout my career and inspired me with their craftsmanship and artistry,” she added.
The celebrated Japanese chef-owner will be formally awarded the title during the 10th annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony on March 29.
The Asia’s Best Female Chef Award is voted for by over 300 members of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. It provides an opportunity for successful women to be celebrated, whose dedication, skills and creativity set new standards in gastronomic excellence. Previous recipients include the Philippines’ Margarita Forés of Cibo in 2016; Hong Kong’s May Chow in 2017; Thailand’s Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun and Garima Arora in 2018 and 2019; Korea’s Cho Hee-sook in 2020; and Shanghai-based chef DeAille Tam in 2021. - FJJ
(Photos courtesy of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022)