Japan is renowned for exceptional food and a handful of chefs take up the top spot. In Niseko and surrounding areas, Chef Tanaka San is something of a legend. A celebrity chef, he is a former instructor at the famous Tsuji Culinary Institute and a well-known TV personality. Niseko Gourmet, our culinary partners in Japan, offer private dinners cooked by the famous chef in your chalet. Curating meals from fresh local produce, this resident chef treats guests to a fantastic gastronomic affair. We caught up with him as he prepared an outstanding meal for us on our last visit. Here are some insights into what makes this famous Japan chef tick. 

When and why did you decide to become a chef?

Chef Tanaka San: I was in elementary school when I wanted to be a chef. I used to watch a TV show called Cooking Heaven and Kagurahum Car World Cooking Show. On the show, I admired the beauty of cooking, and the chefs featured from all over the world cooked food and made the TV show entertaining. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

Elite Havens (EH): What do you like most about Japanese cuisine?

Chef Tanaka San: The beauty of Japanese cuisine is seasonality and delicacy. This fine balance makes each dish a work of art. Every Japan chef knows this secret. 

Have you ever cooked for famous people/guests?

Chef Tanaka San: Yes, when I worked on a cooking TV program. I cooked for celebrities, actresses, entertainers, politicians, athletes and singers. While working with Niseko Gourmet, I cooked for Thai celebrities and Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. And yes, I have also cooked for the last Emperor of China!

What is your favourite season to get fresh ingredients for your menu?

Chef Tanaka San: I like fall, especially autumn to winter. It is minori-no-aki (autumn of harvest season), as plants lose their bitterness, and become sweet and succulent. Fish is also in season during this time. It’s a little-known truth that every Japan chef knows.

EH: In winter, where do the ingredients in each menu come from? Are there any imported ingredients?

Chef Tanaka San: Most of the ingredients are from Hokkaido, except the Omar Shrimp (lobster) in our Seafood and Wagyu dinner. That is imported.

What would be your speciality dish?

Chef Tanaka San: Fish dishes.

Elite Havens: Could you share the recipe with us?

Chef Tanaka San: Of course. The dish is prepared the moment the fish is delivered. I usually make into sashimi or boil like in the recipe below.

Here is my Nitsuke recipe. It is a must-try! 

Recipe for Nitsuke


2 cups of sake

1 cup of mirin

1/2 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of soy sauce

2 cups of water

1 cup of ice

Kinki fish (Hokkaido Rockfish) or any kind of white fish


  1. Remove the scales and organs of the fish then cut relatively deep slits into its surface.
  2. Boil one cup of water in a small pot.
  3. In a bowl add one cup of water with ice in it.
  4. Put the fish in another bowl and pour boiling water on top of it to make it marble. Clean the dirt off the fish, then immediately put the fish in a bowl of cold water. Gently remove any remaining scales or other unwanted materials and debris by using your fingers.
  5. In another pot, combine sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce together and bring to a boil (low heat).
  6. Add the fish to the broth, cover with otoshibuta (a drop lid) and simmer in medium heat until the broth is reduced to 1/3.
  7. Remove the otoshibuta, reduce the heat to low, spooning it on the top until the sauce thickens.
  8. Transfer the Kinki to a serving dish.

Why is this dish special?

Chef Tanaka San: Good sashimi is a combination of the freshness of the fish and how it is prepared. People can enjoy it with their eyes as well as with their taste buds. And because we source fresh Hokkaido fish, it can be eaten raw as sashimi. However, cooking it in broth like this makes it even more delicious.

How to choose fresh fish

Chef Tanaka San: When choosing fish, the essential things to consider are size, freshness, and appearance. The gills should be bright red, the eyes should be crystal-clear, plump, and shiny. It should be firm and slippery but not sticky. The scales should be shiny and firm.

Elite Havens: What are the best knives to use in your line of work?

Chef Tanaka San: Japanese food is different from other cuisines, and there are many knives that match various ingredients and dishes. But I like Yanagiba Houcho which is a sashimi knife. Every Japan chef has his or her favourite knife. 

Who is your cooking inspiration?

Chef Tanaka San: Mr. Shizuo Tsuji was the most inspirational person for me. He was the founder of Tsuji Culinary School and also had a knack for world-class French cuisine. He had a lot of cooking knowledge and was skilled in various techniques. He knew ingredients and wines at the back of his hand. I often joined him for dinner while I worked at Tsuji Culinary School. He let me shave the ice for him during summer as I was the only person who could do this.

What is your favourite childhood dish? Why?

Chef Tanaka San: My favourite food when I was a child was gratin. It was my mother’s recipe and speciality. My mother cooked it religiously every 10 days. Now I am the one making gratin for her. 


Treat your taste buds to one of Chef Tanaka San’s delectable creations via Niseko Gourmet in the comfort and privacy of your own chalet. Let this celebrity Japan chef take you on a delectable journey when you book a private dinner with Niseko Gourmet.