Interview with Masayo Funakoshi: I’m thinking about what I can cook with the ingredients available today
Inspiring Chefs

Interview with Masayo Funakoshi: I’m thinking about what I can cook with the ingredients available today

Text: Minori Mukaida
Photo: Ariko Inaoka

Our first story of inspiration concerns Masayo Funakoshi, a well-renown chef, who has been running her  own restaurant for around three years. Masayo has not only inspired Ariko for many years, but she is a good friend as well. Together we went to Ohara, a small, farming community just north of Kyoto City, where I photographed her shopping for fresh local ingredients, including wild plants, herbs, and local eggs. “I’m thinking about what I can cook with the ingredients available today,” she said, our meal today depending on what vegetables the farmers brought to sell. Together, we talked about creativity, her artistic roots, and soba noodles.

Related ArticleMasayo Funakoshi recipe

Why did you choose Kyoto to have your own shop?

I first came to Kyoto because I was hired to work as the head chef of  another restaurant. When I cook, I’m really using myself as a medium, interpreting what meals would work best for the space I’m cooking at, composing menus consistent with whatever the freshest ingredients might be that season. This method feels more natural in Kyoto than it does in Tokyo. You can find everything you’d ever need in Tokyo, but I find that too much choice or information is not necessarily a good thing. I love that in Kyoto I can gather many fresh ingredients and make something delicious with them.

Wherever I go in Japan (or elsewhere), I research the place to cook meals that might best reflect the region, delving not only culinary culture, but also a place’s history, ethnicity, weather, geology, and any other anthropological markers that might inspire me. So when I’m cooking, I try to be empty, almost like a medium, interpreting these different elements I’ve mentioned in the food I prepare. I’m not always sure how it all comes together, but it always does.

This might sound counter-intuitive, but my approach is quite passive. I might start of wanting to make this, but end up making that. Depends on what kinds of vegetables I’m able to find, but it really can be like a puzzle sometimes.

What I like about cooking is that I feel I can disconnect from my ego. I studied sculpture, and when I was doing art, I had a very strong idea of what something needed to look like, and was obsessed when it didn’t look as good as I thought it could be. This could be really troubling. On the other hand, cooking was more about following through on a series of steps in a limited amount of time. Sculpturing took time, sometimes many months, and my feelings might evolve considerably in the process of finishing a work. What I like about cooking, is that it is very “now,” you prepare it over a day or night and it is enjoyed right away. 

What is your relationship to soba?

Because I’m from the Kanda area in Tokyo, I grew up connected to Edomae soba. When I was a child, I used to go with my father and grandfather who would order seaweed and wasabi with sake. The proprietress running the kitchen would yell out the orders, “seiro, ni-mai,” (two cold soba orders) and “tenseiro,” (a cold soba dish with tempura items, usually shrimp and some vegetables), which today remains a real nostalgic sound for me.

In the Kanto region, cold soba dashi is thicker than Kansai dashi (because it has more soy sauce proportionately), whereas Kansai-region has more complexity, so the soba can be more immersed in the dashi as a flavor agent. So the approaches are different but I like both.

What makes you excited or inspired?

I’m excited every time I go to a new place. I’m a curious person and and feel real joy in learning something I did not know before, something unusual that I have never eaten or seen! I love this combination! I want to try it for myself, and then if I like it see if I can recreate it on my own. I like to think that this curiosity for trying new things is connected to that old saying, “You are what you eat.”

I’ve been curious about cooking since I was a little girl. In fact, my first contact with the English language was from a recipe book. It motivated me to learn English so that I could perform this recipe I discovered. I’m curious about encounters, different people, different dishes, and how a small dining restaurant like Far Moon might create chemistry between strangers through eating.

I realized that because Masayo has such a personal touch in her restaurant, it’s why you can only book a table through through introductions, as there is no fixed menu. Instead, it’s a time and space where you can have highly unique experience created through an imaginative chef. She creates a cozy, wonderful feeling that you never want to end, grateful for her energy, creativity, and friendliness.