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Eiichiro Yamada, a Portrait of Tokyo First Organic Restaurant Chef

Always in search for the best restaurants in Tokyo, I discovered the First Organic Restaurant that opened in Tokyo, Mominoki House. Healthy Food lovers, this article is for you!

Opened in 1976 by Eiichiro Yamada, a Chef fascinated by natural and macrobiotic food, Mominoki House is The place to go for the healthy food lovers. The restaurant offers a delicious lunch set for a very affordable price.
Addicted to this place, I decided to know more about this place and the life of the Chef. I tell you everything in this interview!

A promising childhood spent in the kitchens

Eiichiro Yamada was born in Tokyo. From his childhood his everyday life has been all about fresh and clean food: his dad is a Chef who owns a catering business, so is his grandfather. He grows up in the kitchen and cooks for the first time when he is no more than six year old!

During his childhood, his favorite hobby announces his future: he loves so much fresh local tasty food that every Sunday he goes fishing to the Arakawa river (one of Tokyo’s main rivers). “At that time the rivers of Tokyo’s area were still clean and pure, it was easy to get fresh and healthy food. It’s only from the 60’s that industries started to use chemicals.” Back then he already knows how to cook the two types of fish that he manages to fish, the carp and the crucian carp: he cuts, he prepares, he cooks and he serves them to his family in sashimi, grilled or fried. At such a young age, Eiichiro already had a gift for business… When he was 9 year old he decided to sell the fish that he caught, and this turned into a real success. With the money he made, he could buy a new fishing tool and then caught even better fish.

After graduating, Eiichiro starts working for 3 years, at the Shiba Park Hotel in Tokyo where he learns cooking the French way. In the meanwhile, he keeps on helping his dad for his catering business. This period is very busy, maybe too busy… “My father was very demanding, it was too much work! I had to escape.” This is how he decides to fly away. To be independent, he settles for a while in the United-States. You will understand in a few lines how this break strongly influenced his growth.

The Chef, Eiichiro Yamada
The Chef, Eiichiro Yamada

The United-States: a great opening of mind…and to the stars!

At the age of 21, Eiichiro arrives in this all New World. First in San Francisco where he works for a Dutch restaurant, then in New-York and Baltimore. During this period, he learns a lot. He discovers new ways of thinking, new ways of living, and he even meets Stevie Wonder on the occasion of a welcome party organized by one of his cooking students (he was already giving cooking classes). If you wonder how come that in his restaurant there are framed pictures of Eiichiro and Stevie, now you can understand. Stevie Wonder actually came for dinner a couple of years later, to visit his Japanese friend!

In fact, Eiichiro Yamada cooking gift seems to have appealed to many famous people. Celebrities such as David Bowie and Morgan Fisher (Queen) had dinner at Mominoki House. He was also asked to handle backstage catering for Janet Jackson and Paul McCartney!

But this crazy “American Dream” period amongst worldwide famous people did not distract Eiichiro Yamada from his own journey. He actually kept on nurturing his passion and his respect for Nature. “Of course it was very exciting to be in these huge American cities! But I was myself coming from a very modern city, this wasn’t the idea I had of the USA. I was looking for nature, green landscapes.” So he finally moves to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and there he finds what he was originally looking for: nature and calm. In the peaceful town, he eventually rents an apartment nearby the river “I love river views, I actually like them more than ocean views”.

Nature and environmental protection are Eiichiro’s key values. In that spirit, he recently bought a mountain at Hinohara, a town located only 55 km away from Tokyo, where the Akigawa River passes through. Akigawa River is still clean and pure, and he wants to take care of it. In the coming years, he intends to build there his own meditation house, from wood he collects himself from the forest.

Eiichiro and Stevie Wonder Picture
Eiichiro and Stevie Wonder Picture

 

Europe and London: a life-changing experience

After a quick come back to Tokyo, he decides to grant himself with holidays in Europe. He spends a month traveling and finally arrives in London, with absolutely zero money left…Not even to buy his return flight ticket. He reports with amusement that he was so bankrupt that for a week, he could only eat bread with salt and water! Unfortunately, at this time, the economic situation in England wasn’t good and finding a job wasn’t easy. But finally, he managed to get himself hired at the London Continental Restaurant.

He spends 2 years there, and aside from cooking he decides to study Politics & Economics. This period was so intense that, for a while, he forgot to take care of himself. To be able to cope with all his endeavors, he only slept 3 hours per night and his diet started to be very unhealthy. “I was eating way too much meat and potatoes! No miso soup, no brown rice, I had no minerals”. Unfortunately, this unstoppable personality didn’t see the health damages that this routine was causing until he felt severely sick. He reports that he even had a near-death experience.

This has been a real life-changing experience. After that, he radically came back to his original habits: a balanced and healthy routine in harmony with his natural body cycles.

After a quick come back to Tokyo, he decides to grant himself with holidays in Europe. He spends a month traveling and finally arrives in London, with absolutely zero money left…Not even to buy his return flight ticket. He reports with amusement that he was so bankrupt that for a week, he could only eat bread with salt and water! Unfortunately, at this time, the economic situation in England wasn’t good and finding a job wasn’t easy. But finally, he managed to get himself hired at the London Continental Restaurant.

He spends 2 years there, and aside from cooking he decides to study Politics & Economics. This period was so intense that, for a while, he forgot to take care of himself. To be able to cope with all his endeavors, he only slept 3 hours per night and his diet started to be very unhealthy. “I was eating way too much meat and potatoes! No miso soup, no brown rice, I had no minerals”. Unfortunately, this unstoppable personality didn’t see the health damages that this routine was causing until he felt severely sick. He reports that he even had a near-death experience.

This has been a real life-changing experience. After that, he radically came back to his original habits: a balanced and healthy routine in harmony with his natural body cycles.

Back to Tokyo: the opening of Mominoki House, the first Organic Restaurant in Tokyo

This time, Eiichiro decides to come back for good to Japan. His strengths back he decides to specialize in macrobiotic cooking and to readopt a healthy daily routine. He also studies Entrepreneurship to be able to run his own business. This desire to be completely independent and not a typical salaryman, like the majority of the Japanese society was – and still is pushed to be so – was clearly upstream.

This is how Mominoki House opened in 1976. At the age of 27, Eiichiro became the Chef and the creator of the first organic restaurant in Tokyo.

Mominoki House used to be a warehouse. When he decided to rent it he had to remodel the entire space with the help of a professional interior designer. Wood is everywhere to convey a natural feeling, it represents his natural and clean food concept. “I like clean and pure elements”.

As a result, the restaurant atmosphere is warm and relaxing. Space has been wisely arranged with mezzanines and behind, some cute private lodges are hiding.

As you understand, the house is specialized in macrobiotic food with meals made from brown rice, seaweeds, vegetables, and seeds mainly. This avant-garde Chef is convinced of the nutritional benefits of brown rice, and despite the surprise of his local customers claiming for traditional Japanese white rice, he never changed his mind and he keeps on serving only this specific type of rice. Believe me, he is totally right: brown rice brings much more nutritional benefits, it contains a lot of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, the rice that he serves comes from a production based in Yamagata Prefecture (North Tokyo) that only uses natural cultivation growth.

Delicious Soy Karaage
Delicious Soy Karaage

 

Towards a long-term balanced lifestyle

The healthy and balanced lifestyle that Eiichiro promotes in his restaurant, is fully inspired by his own life habits. At home, he only drinks ionized water. In the morning he has no breakfast but he drinks a glass of warm water, then he has two meals per day at his restaurant.

Moreover, he rides a bicycle to his restaurant, he often goes swimming, and every night he meditates for half an hour before going to sleep in order to clean his mind.

The effects of this routine are marvelous! At 69, Eiichiro is a very energetic man with new ideas every day. When he is not in his restaurants, he goes farming, fishing, he takes part in organic and Slow Life events or works on new projects.

Among his forthcoming projects, here are a couple of them:

– By next month: new recipes using rape blossom oil from his own crops,
– By next year: his own homemade sake
– Moonlight sea salt…

 

To know everything about the restaurant, wait for my next article !

Cyrielle Ugnon Administrator
Cyrielle is a French woman living in Tokyo since October 2018. She loves food, traveling and people.

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