Renovated from an old stone warehouse, Sekka Lab is a recently opened restaurant and bar located on Kutchan’s main street designed by local photographer and artist Shouya Grigg.
The restaurant’s concept goes beyond the idea of renovation; it strives to create a communal space utilizing Shouya’s individual aesthetic where architecture, interior design, cuisine and customer service come together to form a total work of art. Another artist who helps perfect this artwork is the head chef, Mr Komatsu.
Born and raised in Sendai, Komatsu-san was an outgoing boy who enjoyed Shaolin Kung Fu and playing rugby. Since his parents worked, he often prepared his own meals and cooking soon became a big part of his life. His aunt used to say to him “you are good at cooking, you’ll become a chef when you grow up”.
Her remarks always encouraged him and helped shape him to be the person he is today.
After finishing high school he went on to cooking school. Although he had no prior experience in French cooking, he had seen it on TV and thought it looked tasty and exciting, so he decided to undertake training in a French restaurant. Another reason for choosing French cuisine was that he thought the staff meals would be delicious. He was put in charge of fish at the restaurant and this sparked an interest in fishing and lead him to work at a fish shop once his training was over.
You worked at the fish shop for 4 years. What kept you there rather than pursuing your career as a chef earlier?
I had a lot of fun working there… I got to experience so much, from purchasing fish from the market to showing tourists how to calve tuna at the fishing port. I had a great time fishing too!
I never gave up on cooking. I was brought up in the Sanriku region of Miyagi prefecture where fresh fish were abundant and I knew that fish cuisine was going to be popular. It’s delicious and will be the staple ingredient of the restaurant I own one day.
Afterwards, my senpai went to Germany to train in sausage making and that sparked my interest in going abroad; it seemed like the perfect time to go to France and study French cuisine. During my time there, I travelled to Germany, Italy and Spain to help out in restaurants and got to try the local foods from time to time.
What kind of impression did you get from your overseas culinary training?
When I got there and met foreign chefs they turned out to have similar attitudes to cooking that I had. It didn’t feel that different being abroad and I easily adjusted to the new environment.
I returned to Sendai, Japan and worked in Italian and French restaurants.
What brought you to Niseko?
One of my colleagues from Sendai had moved to Hokkaido to start a tomato farm in Rankoshi. I needed a change of scene so I decided to visit him and help him out. Part of my job was to visit neighbouring towns to meet local farmers and on one occasion I visited Matsubara Farm – which produced wine – where I met the farmer’s daughter who later became the manager of Sekka Lab. I was offered to cook for a One Day Gallery & Cafe event at SOMOZA. SOMOZA is another art project by Shouya Grigg where a 150 year old kominka (traditional wooden house) from the Tochigi prefecture had been taken apart, transported and re-built here in Hokkaido. It consists of a café, tea room and gallery spaces.
Niseko reminded me of being in Europe; it felt like a foreign country. The food and people were unique and I was drawn to them rather than just trying to fit in. When I first came in autumn it was a very quiet place, but during winter the environment changed and it became totally different.
Being able to see and touch the raw produce with my own hands is very important
Did you enjoy working at a farm?
Yes – I was always intrigued and wanted to know how the ingredients I used were produced. Being able to see and touch the raw produce with my own hands is very important to me.
I guess that’s the same feeling I had when I worked at a fish shop. The more experienced a chef you become the more you have an urge to dig deeper into the food origin and production.
What do you aim for as a chef?
There are many high-quality ingredients produced in the area such – I would like to create dishes using local produce that make you appreciate the full splendour of the area.
What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I like to read. I would like to hike more often too; my friends took me hiking in the mountains and I really enjoyed it.
Snowboarding was always my thing, but I haven’t had much of a chance to get out recently.
What would you like to do in the future?
I am hoping to build projects that utilize local crops that my friends grow so that we can work together, prosper and be happy.
I’ve spent most of my life moving from one place to another – it’s always been hard to feel settled – so I’d like to spend more time getting to know the local people and find a place to settle down.
RECIPE – Pan fried gnocchi
50g powdered cheese
Herbs (garlic, sage, rosemary),
1. Boil the potatoes.
2. Cool potatoes and remove skin and buds. Mash until smooth.
3. Add the egg, flour, cheese then knead until moist.
4. Roll potato mixture into a 2cm roll and cut it to the desired length.
5. Boil for 5-6 minutes, remove the gnocchi once it floats to the surface.
6. Place olive oil and butter in a frying pan. Cook gnocchi until browned, add garlic
and herbs to taste.
7. Optionally add your favourite garnish such as sauce, cheese, olive oil, or lemon.
dine in style at Sekka Lab www.sekka-lab.com