• Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen Gion, Kyoto

    Food & Restaurant_Story

    Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen Gion, Kyoto


Jean-George at The Shinmonzen Team
Photo: Ken Mochizuki 望月研

Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen: Chef Interview 3/24/2023
Interviewed by Nana A. Kinno, TARO and Hiroki Iwamoto, HOTERES

Located in the heart of Gion, Kyoto, The Shinmonzen is a small luxury hotel overflowing with inspiration. The modern architecture of Tadao Ando, and world-class contemporary art collections that can be enjoyed throughout the hotel and in the 9 suite rooms all with balconies. Owned by a renown hotelier and art collector Paddy McKillen, The Shinmonzen is a sister property to Villa La Coste in Aix en Provence.

Kyoto’s traditional architecture x Tadao Ando’s modernism

Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen is the newest addition to this bespoke property that opened its doors on March 15th. The sleek yet inviting interior was the works of Stephanie Goto, also known for her popular New York restaurants such as Aldea and Morimoto. The concept of the restaurant is "to offer delicate and elegant dishes that change constantly with the seasons, using an abundance of local ingredients and a fusion of French, American, and Asian flavours."

JG’s aspiration: to offer delicate and elegant dishes that change constantly with the seasons…
Photo: Ken Mochizuki 望月研

In our lovely fun interview, chef Jean-Georges (JG) discusses his decade long friendship with Paddy, and his excitement to evolve his signature spices by working with Kyoto’s farmers and local producers.

In fact, in between the 6 course menu delivered personally to our table by JG, we saw him meticulously picking out and sniffing various deep green coloured peppers brought in by a young local farmer who sat quietly during this selection process…

…using an abundance of local ingredients and a fusion of French, American, and Asian flavours."

[ Nana Kinno ] So Jean Georges san…

[ Jean-George ] Jean Georges san! (haha) It’s nice to hear that. (haha)

[ NK ] I actually found out reading through your bio that you have some experience living in Japan a long time ago, in Osaka.

[ JG ] Yes, I was there for 6 months, from 1985 at a restaurant called Rendezvous in the Plaza Hotel. I was working as a consultant chef for Louis Outhier, helping with the opening to train the chefs and everything else. This was my first experience in Japan.

[ NK ] Do you still remember things from that time, like your first impression of Osaka?

[ JG ] Oh yeah, of course. Osaka had great food. At the time, I worked in Thailand for two years, and to Singapore, Hong Kong, then Osaka. So for me, it was a life-changing experience.

[ NK ] Wow. But when compared to Thailand and the Asian countries, we use different types of spices…probably more mild? What did you think about that?

[ JG ] It was more mild, but different. And I tasted beef that I never had before. Before Wagyu, Kobe beef was popular. I had it in 1985 – it was magical.

This was also the first time I had wasabi, fresh! People were not familiar with sushi at the time. I tasted live Ebi which was a new experience for me. We don't have sushi in Alsace! (hahaha)

[ Hiroki Iwamoto ] You have opened many restaurants. Why did you choose The Shinmonzen in Kyoto?

[ JG ] I feel like Kyoto chose me! (hahaha) Actually Paddy McKillen developed the hotel, after purchasing the land 20 years ago. We had partnered already in London, at The Connaught which was about 10 years ago.

Two and a half years ago he said, I am opening this small nine room hotel called Shimonzen in Gion. I said, Oh my god, that sounds amazing! So I came here. Then Paddy tells me, We got plans with Tadao Ando. And I was like, Wow, this is magical!!

Interior design by Stephanie Goto

Spring pea salad with crude madai, buttermilk vinaigrette

[ NK ] I see. There is a total of how many seats here?

[ JG ] 16 in this main area with tables, plus counter seating and balcony. It is very small.

[ HI ] As I recall, Jean-Georges Tokyo is a small private place. Are you a fan of small capacity places?

[ JG ] Yes, because when I work in New York, everything is much bigger and much more volume. I feel that in Japan, everything ought to be more precise and smaller. I like small places, It feels very homey. It's like cooking for the family.

[ NK ] I’ve noticed that you take the time to greet all the guests, and share all of the experiences, all the way.

[ JG ] Of course. It's very important.

Actually, the chef is arriving next week. A young sous chef named Hana. She's 28 years old, part Japanese and part Korean. Her family lives in Korea, but originally, she's from Japan. What she can bring to the table is going to be very interesting. I want her to really utilise all that she’s learned at Jean-Georges Restaurant, but to be her own chef as well.

[ NK ] Surely your menu here is going to be different from Tokyo. Are there some signature dishes that you would like to explore with the local produce?

[ JG ] I want to use a lot of vegetables, which Kyoto is best known for. Right now we only have one dish on the menu, but eventually we're going to have a vegetable-only menu, in Omakase style. So, we will be offering two menus: Omnivore, and vegetable. So, I think that it's fantastic. The Kyoto turnip, Kyoto carrots, eggplants…I see so much produce coming from the mountains, it's amazing. I'm very excited about it!

At its base will be seasoned with our flavours but with Japanese specialty, Kyoto ingredients. Like the Ebi, that we serve with the crepe.

Kuruma ebi wrapped in galette, butter herbs and kombu

Crispy amadai with roasted carrots, lemon and negi emulsion

Kyo-Tamba Hirai gyu beef fillet, daikon & crispy kale with mustard essence

[ HI ] Surely, you must get a lot of offers, to open up a restaurant in different places. How do you pick and choose?

[ JG ] I want to open a restaurant at a location that I want to visit! (hahaha) Well, Kyoto is an important destination for me, because it really inspires me.

[ HI ] When you were first approached about opening a place in Kyoto, what was your first reaction?

[ JG ] YES!!! (all laughs: ahahahahaha) Yes. Oui. Bien sur! To be in a building designed by a true legend in architecture…to be part of something that's not just food but an ensemble. We are right next to the river, with cherry blossom trees just a block away. It's just inspirational.

The Shinmonzen balcony for every season

[ JG ] (cont.) At the moment, our goal is to bring something special to Kyoto and its communities. I think cuisine is very personal. Everybody has a different interpretation of cooking. So to bring the pleasure to 16 people every night, is an idea that I love. It's like a guest house. It's like my home. Welcome home!

Looking back, when I was younger, my outlook about all this was a bit different. But now, I want to go back to the basics. I'm more focused today.

[ HI ] Putting Kyoto aside for a moment. Aside from Kyoto, are there certain trends that you're aware of that you want to try to implement?

[ JG ] I try not to follow trends, I just follow my passion. Kyoto has so much to offer. I like to wander about and discover things on my own. You need to give me some address to go to visit!

The acidity of the kimchi and the spices we put in the food are my style. That's my signature style, to be as sustainable as possible, with as little colour as possible. I want to pass along this knowledge to the next generation.

Curiously, the one cuisine that people are seeking today is Japanese food. You know when I arrived in New York in 1986, there were only a handful of Japanese restaurants. Today in New York people commonly eat Japanese food. Japan and Japanese cuisine have become a huge inspiration and aspiration.

I mean look, noma is here in Kyoto now. I am looking forward to tasting their food. What a privilege to be here and to showcase my style of food to the local people. It's a great pleasure.

Egg toast caviar, dill and chive…an amazing texture!

[ NK ] I have a few questions about the dishes. I really enjoyed your signature egg dish.

[ JG ] This menu will be changed next week when we will be introducing a new caviar dish. But do you want me to keep the egg dish especially for you? (hahaha) Well, we can set it aside for your breakfast. (Haha!)

[ NK ] (Hahaha) Back to my question… I think part of your appeal that people find, has to do with your signature egg dishes. I’m wondering, how do you find eggs in Japan?

[ JG ] Oh, the eggs are very orange and more yellow in colour. The flavour is richer when compared to the rest of the world. In terms of taste, it’s also richer and denser. We only use organic eggs. I think it’s more pleasant with the caviar, which as you know is equally rich. So, you will find the egg toast here, to be better, as well.

How do you like the texture?

[ NK ] Lovely! I found the texture to be not so raw…keeping somewhat of a firm softness to the yolk.

[ JG ] Well, we cook it at 150 Fahrenheit for 2 hours, so the texture is like cooked, but not thoroughly, because I feel when it's too liquid it doesn't taste the same. When you have the right texture, the flavour of the yolk can be better appreciated. So that's my signature tradition. So, was that your favourite?

[ NK ] Many things were my favourite! (hahaha) Well, my other favourite was the pairing between the green pea dish and the wine – it was wonderful! The peas were very light, and the flowers scattered on top were incredibly light as well. However, when sipping on the white wine, the flavours suddenly became very earthy.

[ JG ] Oh yes, that’s right. So, you will find that in a week or two weeks, the peas will become even sweeter.

Playful bitesize treats: Gummy bear and Kyoto sweets

Thank you very much for bringing in the chilli! JG said to the young farmer as he left. He turned to us and commented with a bright smile, It's amazing to meet the farmers here. We use a lot of chillies and his knowledge is amazing!

Chef JG’s journey of discovery in Kyoto and Japan has just begun.

More from TARO:
The Shinmonzen: An embodiment of Kyoto Luxury
The Shinmonzen (hotel walkthrough)

Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen
【Hours of Operation】
Breakfast: 7:00-10:30am (Non-residents last order: 9:30am)
Lunch: 11:30-14:00 (Last order: 13:00pm)
Dinner: 17:30-22:00pm (Last order: 20:30pm)
In-Room Dining/A La-Carte Menu: Hotel guests only

【Total seats】
Table 16 seats / Counter 6 seats / Terrace 8 seats

Lunch: 3 Courses ¥9,000 (tax incl.)
Dinner: 6 Courses ¥18,000 / 8 Courses ¥24,000 (tax incl.)

【Booking inquiry】
Jean-Georges at The Shinmonzen
235 Nishino-cho, Shinmonzen-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605 0088
TEL: 075 600 2055

Contact TARO for more information and exclusive offers.

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