JAPAN and the WORLD interviewed Heinz Beck to find out about his food philosophy.
—Please tell us about yourself.
I joined chef school in Passau, Germany at the age of 17, and I gained experience working in many restaurants. Then I went on to cook in Aschau under Heinz Winkler where I had been his Sous Chef for 5 years. I got the third Michelin star at “La Pergola”, in Rome, when I was 42 years old, in 2005.
But my success in Rome was not, by all means, built in a day. I am not in the kitchen because I have to be. I am in the kitchen because I want to be. There was time in the past when I wanted to quit cooking and take over the family business but it did not happen at the end. For me, working in the kitchen is my soul and my life, and I love it. I’m not there because people expect to see me. I am there because I want to be. The work that I am doing is the work of passion and I have been doing it now for 35 years.
—Your motto is Good-Better-Best. What does drive you to innovate and to push the boundaries of culinary traditions? Is there such thing as culinary perfection?
My ambition is simple: Good-Better-Best. I want to satisfy my customers and run a well-working place with happy clients who come back again and again–that is the biggest compliment to a chef. Don’t stop before the good is better and the better is best.
I have been always looking if there is something that can be done better. I am changing a lot. I make a lot of dishes taste new and look new. And I renovate continuously my way of cooking.
There are different objectives in cooking. First is health, second is taste, and the third is to make the dish that look beautiful. The look is important but considering the three points all together–the less important.
—Le club des chef has a saying: when politics divide people, a good table gather them. Do you think gastronomy can play a key role in diplomacy?
Of course it does. In my opinion, food can be a very strong trait d’union.
In October 2015, the Italian Jewish Community in cooperation with the Islamic Community and the Christian Catholic Diocese, organized a special event called the Tent of Abraham–a non-profit activity. The purpose of this project was to communicate peace and to promote public awareness about the importance of listening to the needs of other people of any race and faith.
I was involved in this project and cooked a lunch for about 150 guests, homeless people, migrants, as well as the highest authorities in Milan representing the three great monotheistic religions.
I prepared a special menu in the full respect of Halal and Kosher dietary requirements. We all sat at the same table talking about the future, about religion, about friendship and how food can be used as an instrument of peace. In this sense gastronomy is very diplomatic.
—What do you think about Japan? How is Japan influencing your cuisine?
In terms of eating, Italian and Japanese philosophies are very close. In terms of products, Italians are driven by high quality of seasonal food.
The biggest challenge is to understand the products and their seasonality. When I need for example shrimps or prawns, I would never bring it from Italy because in Japan you get a really good quality prawns. The only thing you have to understand is where is the right place to buy the products in a certain season. In the first year of being in Japan, we spent a lot of time on learning about this.
—You are involved in many projects, starting from restaurants running worldwide, writing publications, ending on cooperating with universities. What is the common ground of all these activities? What is important in your kitchen?
In my opinion we are what we eat. So this is the starting point of my life philosophy.
I cook well-balanced dishes and I have been promoting health for years: healthy cooking can taste fabulous, triggers the senses and gives a lot of emotions. Many people think that healthy kitchen is not tasty, but that is not right.
I did research 6 or 7 years ago about oscillation of insulin after dinner, which is very important for diabetics. Three years ago, I wrote a book about blood pressure and alimentation. The last book was about recipes and tips for little kids and how to avoid children’s obesity at the same time.
I also worked on a number of projects with the faculty of medicine at Rome’s “Sapienza” University to gain an insight on how food affects digestion. It is important for me that the food I serve is easy to digest and tasty.
In all my restaurants the menus are well balanced and, even if you eat my seven-course tasting menu, you will not feel full and heavy afterwards, you will feel good.