Photo credit: Spencer Pernikoff @whiskeyandsoba
Born and raised in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, food played a big roll in my life. Growing up, I was always in the kitchen making dinner with my father or baking with my mother. When I was in third grade, I received a cookbook and was constantly trying to recreate the recipes. Although the results varied, the science behind baking fascinated me. Coming home from school, I couldn’t wait to make bread for the next morning! Soon I began selling bagels to friends and neighbors, using my profits to buy cookbooks or pastry tools.
When I was 17, I had an amazing opportunity to help open patisserie Aplanos for Chef Shinpei Asada. Knowing nothing about the industry, I spent most of my time washing dishes and packaging product. Upon completion of high school, Chef Shinpei reached out and offered me a full-time position, so I went back to Patisserie Aplanos to work. I spent 5 years gaining knowledge about the industry as well as having the opportunity to compete in a few junior competitions for sugar showpieces. After 5 years, I realized to further pursue my dream, I needed to move to the United States. My mother was born and raised in America; therefore, I am fluent in English as well as Japanese. This helped my transition to America.
Having no money or connections, I flew to North Carolina to stay with family friends and this is where I began to see pictures of cakes from Nathaniel Reid Bakery in St. Louis, MO. Although I looked into New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, Nathaniel Reid Bakery really caught my eye and I was fortunate enough to speak with Nathaniel himself. He offered me an amazing opportunity to stage in his bakery. I spent two days in the kitchen of Nathaniel Reid bakery and was hired immediately. I worked as a pastry cook for a year and then was promoted to kitchen manager which is where you can find me today.
64% Cacao Barry Guayaquil dipped orangettes from @shimonotsuka
Q1: What do you think set you apart from others when you showed up to stage at Nathaniel Reid Bakery. How have you had to adapt from working at Patisserie Aplanos in Japan to now managing more than 20 employees alongside Nathaniel Reid.
A: I don’t know if I know the answer to that, but I can tell you I felt like the fit was perfect and Nathaniel and his staff made me feel like a part of the team the moment I walked through the door.
The hardest part I would say was the language barrier and the cultural differences. It took time for me to adapt. As far as managing the team, it’s an ongoing learning experience, of which I’m continuing to improve on every day.
Q2: You’ve stated before that your favorite ingredient to work with is fresh fruit. Is this still true to this day? We know from personal experience that you’re often baking and cooking outside of work. How often do you find yourself experimenting with new flavors, has any combination really stuck with you lately? What’s your favorite meal to cook after a long day of work?
A: Yes and no. The quality of fruit is very different in the states, but I still enjoy working with fresh fruit seasonally whenever possible. On my days off I will cook and try out new recipes in order to keep myself motivated and inspired.
Most of what I choose to cook outside of work is on the savory side. I had the opportunity to travel back to Japan this past summer, since then, I have been experimenting with roasted green tea. I’ve been trying to infuse Japanese ingredients into more modern French style pastries. After a long day of work, rice is my favorite thing to cook – it feels like home and reminds me of my childhood.
Q3: You’ve found a lot of success being self-taught, having never gone to culinary school. Can you give any advice or tips for aspiring pastry chefs who may be heading down the same path?
A: Whether you go to culinary school or not, much of the industry is focused around personal connections, hard work, and of course dedication. I’ve gotten to where I am today through meeting people, learning from them, and listening to the advice that they have to share with me. If you know that this is your dream, don’t let anything stop you, no matter how hard things may get.
Pastry sesh with @hkerne and @sharonmharter Lychee yogurt mousse, raspberry gelèe, and genoise from @shimonotsuka
Q4: What do you enjoy doing in your free time when you’re outside of the kitchen? Having moved to St.Louis on a whim have you found the city enjoyable?
A: I enjoy hiking, going out for coffee, music, drawing, and going to the gym. Anything that gets me outdoors enjoying nature. I spend a lot of time at the grocery store on my days off (laughs). I’ve come to love the city since I’ve been here, but even more so, the people.
St. Louis has become my second home and given me some incredible, life-long relationships. There’s still a lot I have left to explore, but I’m looking forward to every minute. I’ve gotten to know a lot of other chefs around St. Louis.
The food scene here is amazing! It’s a very closely-knit community – people who share the same passions and are always helping each other and working together.
Q5: You plan on eventually opening up your own pastry shop, what kind of pastries would you focus on and what would be your ideal location for such a shop?
A: My dream is to open a shop that has regulars, people who keep coming back time and time again. I love people and it gives me a great satisfaction to see customers I know by name, can say ‘hello’ to and have a personal relationship with.
I would love to go back to the east coast where I spent some time growing up. I would focus mainly on modern French pastries with a Japanese influence.
If you're interested in learning more about chef Shimon Otsuka you can follow him on Instagram @shimonotsuka where he shares some of his bakes, travels, and artwork.
If this is your first time joining us for a Q&A as a reader thank you so much for following along. We appreciate any and all customer interactions so feel free to use code: SHIPFREE to save on shipping with your next order.
We love to use our featured chef series to introduce our wonderful audience with some of the amazing and talented chefs who choose Clement Design every day. Having met and interacted with Shimon many times here in St.Louis we can vouch for how gifted and passionate he is with his craft. You can see some of the work the talented Chef Nathaniel Reid and team at Nathaniel Reid Bakery does by following them @nathanielreidbakery.
If you are in the St.Louis area we would recommend you stop by for a delicious almond croissant or really anything on the menu (seriously it's amazing). You can learn more about Nathaniel Reid Bakery by clicking here.
Thank you again to Shimon for taking part in our Featured Chef Series. If you are interested in learning more about how you could become a featured chef in the future please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.