While it’s said that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the same can be said for creating a great restaurant. In the case of innovative chef and restaurateur Heinz Beck, it has been a career of hard work and dedication that earned his La Pergola the status of being the only restaurant in the Eternal City to hold three Michelin stars.
Regarded as one of the most-respected chefs in Europe, Beck is known for his inventive offerings, particularly his one-of-a-kind “molecular gastronomy” creations of delicate foams, glass-like beads of flavorful surprises and creative uses of an incredibly vast array of ingredients. Thankfully, for the fine food lovers of Japan, Beck opened his eponymous restaurant in Tokyo in late 2014, bringing his unique creations to the city with the most Michelin three-starred restaurants in the world.
Born in Germany in 1963, Beck began his career in his home country before moving to Rome “for a few years.” On what influenced him to move to Italy, Beck said: “Fate, I think. I started my career in Germany and I spent some years working in other restaurants. Then I met my mentor Heinz Winkler who taught me a lot and involved me in several experiences abroad. In 1994, he also put me in touch with the GM at the Hilton Cavalieri (the former name of the hotel) and I started at La Pergola. My intention was to stay in Italy for a few years; I celebrated my 22nd anniversary this year.”
His restaurant in Tokyo is centrally located in Otemachi, overlooking the Imperial Palace outer walls. The chic, well-lit space is finished in soft beige and light earth tones, accentuated by crisp white linens on the tables. Boasting a large glass and stainless steel wine cellar with many vintages to complement the food, the restaurant offers diners an opportunity to enjoy Beck’s amazing creations delivered by an impeccably dressed and extremely knowledgeable staff in a refined, modern setting.
With restaurant ventures across Europe and the Middle East, Beck was asked what enticed him to open his namesake eatery in Tokyo. He replied: “Since my first trip in 1989, I have been fascinated by the wonderful products that Japan offers, as well as the excellent quality of ingredients. I love the care with which they are selected, prepared and presented to guests.”
The restaurant exclusively offers set courses, with three and four-dish courses available for lunch and six, nine and 13-dish courses offered in the evenings. Each course features a variety of Beck’s delicious and often fanciful creations. Among Beck’s signature dishes available at the Tokyo restaurant is the Fagottelli Heinz Beck; tiny pillows of hand-made pasta encasing a mixture of eggs, whipped cream and pecorino cheese topped with a sauce of bacon, zucchini, white wine, veal stock and more pecorino to offer bite-sized morsels of “carbonerra” pasta.
Other creations include such items as ravioli filled with burrata, basil and pistachio pesto on a foam of smoked potatoes and veal with wild fennel in a crust of cereal served with pearls of goat cheese.
Desserts include a raspberry cream served with yogurt sponge, a salted pine nut ice cream and a crunchy banana sablee with liquorice ice cream, persimmon sauce and pear sorbet.
For those lucky enough to have tasted Beck’s cooking, the care and attention to detail in his dishes is obvious. “I aim to create emotional, balanced and tasty dishes without sacrificing the well-being of my guests,” he said.
Being at the forefront of the gourmet-cooking world, Beck is not only about creating delicious delicacies and mouth-watering morsels; he is also interested in how food affects the body. Addressing this, Beck said: “I still study a lot about how eating helps to prevent us from catching diseases. For example, malnutrition is a disease, as is vitamin deficiency. Cancer is often, although not always, connected to eating. I wonder what we can do to prevent this. Our cuisine has to give to our bodies the perfect food combinations that respect the complete energy requirements of our bodies. Food needs to nourish us and it needs to be well prepared for organisms undergoing evolution. Human beings have evolved because we live longer thanks to an ever-changing lifestyle.
“Changing our lifestyles and benefitting from ever-improved medicines, we must take care of our bodies by eating healthily, so as not to develop pathologies which derive from unhealthy nutrition such as Type-2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, cirrhosis of the liver and high blood pressure.”
Beck works hard to make sure that his dietary philosophy is reflected in his culinary creations. “When I prepare my menus, I have to be extra careful not to invent dishes that create problems or damage to my guests’ health. This is a goal I’ve been striving for more or less the past 15 years.”
Because Tokyo hosts the most Michelin-starred restaurants, there may be those that feel that bringing in a new, high-end eatery is unnecessary and simply adds another player to an already crowded field. To these people, Beck says: “My Tokyo space is a contemporary and modern restaurant, with very high-level cuisine inspired by Mediterranean flavors where every single dish is the result of the research for health and digestibility.”
For Tokyoites, as well as everyone else, a trip to Heinz Beck is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the carefully prepared and lovingly crafted dishes are a treat for the five senses, offering diners the very best in haute cuisine.
Asked about the future of Heinz Beck Tokyo, Beck says, “My hope is that the restaurant becomes my flagship restaurant.”
For more details please visit JapanRestaurant.net.
By James Souilliere
From WINING & DINING in TOKYO #50