[FOUNTAIN]Famous chefs didn’t start out that way

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[FOUNTAIN]Famous chefs didn’t start out that way

If you want to have dinner at La Bettola, an Italian restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district, you might have to make a reservation a year ahead of time. In its eighth year in business, La Bettola has people waiting in line from 8 a.m. for lunch, which is served on a first-come-first-served basis. New restaurants and cafes have sprung up around La Bettola, hoping to attract its customers who’ve given up waiting. The restaurant is so famous that it’s been visited by food critics from Italy, who say it would succeed even there. La Bettola does not advertise, and its interior is far from fancy. Its prices are hardly competitive. The only secret to its success is the food.
Owner and chef Tsutomu Ochiai cooks Italian cuisine with Japanese craftsmanship. He says he thinks of his customers as judges. When they gladly pay their bills, he feels as though they are handing down a ruling: “Tsutomu Ochiai, not guilty!” Like a defendant facing a verdict, he gets nervous when he’s in the kitchen.
Culinary talent is not all there is to being a great chef. Ferran Adria is the classic hardworking chef. Though he’s been called a combination of Mozart, Picasso and Dali, he never ceases to improve himself.
Mr. Adria, who runs the three-star (as certified by Michelin) Barcelona restaurant El Bulli, closes the restaurant for six months each year and retires to his laboratory kitchen to develop recipes for the next year’s menu. If El Bulli were a company, this would be an extraordinary investment in research and development. Mr. Adria then publishes the recipes in a book and a CD-ROM. He does not mind other chefs copying his food, because he can always come up with innovative recipes.
Chefs Ochiai and Adria did not succeed because they were famous; they became famous because they were successful. They had their shares of hardship. Accomplished restaurateurs in Korea like to tell their stories of struggle; still, many seem to underestimate the difficulty of the profession. In these times of unemployment and restructuring, many middle-aged office workers ask themselves, “Should I start a restaurant?” But it’s hardly easy. One can’t succeed without devotion and the determination to submit to customers’ judgments. If you think you’re qualified, you might consider whether simply doing your best in your present job might not be easier and lead to rewards sooner.

by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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