Jun Kondo:

I know what Muscovites like

Jun Kondo, Head Chef at Fumisawa Sushi, came to Moscow a year ago at the invitation of the Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov. A graduate of Hattori Culinary University, the most famous culinary school in Japan, he has worked in Canada and China, which means he understands both European and Asian palates. In an interview with Capital Ideas, Jun revealed what’s special about Russia and talked about overcoming obstacles.

Jun, you haven’t been in Russia that long. What are your first impressions?

I came to Russia for the first time last winter at Arkady Novikov’s invitation – it was our first meeting and food tasting. I remember that I came very late at night, when it was dark and very cold. Back then I didn’t understand that Petrovka is the center of Moscow, what kind of people live here or what products are available… it wasn’t the best first impression, now that I think about it.

Why did you accept the offer?

I’m used to not making snap judgments, which is part of Japanese culture. Everything happens for a reason, and this reason is sometimes only revealed to us over time. Since I lived in Canada for a long time and worked in China and Europe, I knew I wouldn’t end up in a place where I’m used to everything. A lot of things are different here.

Do you feel differently now?

I like it here now, Moscow is my home. Even though I spend most of my time at work, I really like my team and our regular guests. We always have lively conversations.

In your opinion, what are the big differences between Russians and Japanese people?

The Japanese are very measured. They might be punctual, but they will fully submerge themselves in a single process until they learn it like the back of their hands. Take, for example, our approach to culinary education – you have to go to school for almost 10 years in order to learn how to make sushi properly.

Russians love to multitask and doing things quickly, sometimes only have superficial knowledge of a subject, are impetuous, impulsive and like doing everything last-minute.

What sorts of challenges did you encounter in Moscow?

Most likely every foreigner will give you the same answer – it’s hard to understand each other. There are only a couple people in the kitchen who speak or understand English. I often have to rely on hand gestures.

Were there any pleasant surprises?

I really like working with Arkady Novikov. He comes by the restaurant often, knows what he wants and what the clients will like. He helped me get through my first adjustment period. Now I can say for a fact that I understand what Muscovites like. For example, we have Fumisawa rolls on the menu. These are classic salmon rolls topped with baked cheese. They’re a major hit here, but wouldn’t have done as well in other countries where I’ve worked.

Do you miss home? What do you miss the most?

I have a real soft spot for my grandmother’s house, family dinners and spending quality time with my family.

What is missing in Russia in terms of business?

If you try hard enough, you can find or order any ingredient here. For example, we recently ordered bluefin tuna and I secured us a supply of young bamboo. Russia is a fairly advanced country in terms of restaurants and is open to experiments. I like that.

What kinds of personality traits are most important for foreigners who want to come to Russia and do business here?

Mobility, flexibility and the ability to cope with stress. It’s best if there is a person they can rely on, someone who can help them understand the Russian mentality.

What kind of advice would you give to other Japanese people who are coming to Russia in order to live and work here?

I think the most important thing to do before signing a contract is come over for a visit and learn about the project ahead of time – discuss objectives, tasks, to get a feel for the atmosphere. To do some research. Sometimes everything seems to look good on paper, but your intuition tells you to decline the offer. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite.

What are your plans for the next 10 years?

I want to grow as a chef, to improve my technique and discover new products. I am interested in growing as a manager because cooking is about more than just food. It’s also about working on a team. It’s important for me to have a team that shares my values. For example, what’s the point of working if you don’t love what you do? Why put in a mediocre effort when someone else could be pouring their heart into the job? This is the philosophy I want to get across to the people I work with.



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