There are many great French restaurants in New York. But it is hard to find classic dishes in the city where “classic” often sounds like “old-fashioned”.
If you go to France, however, the truly classic French cuisine that you come across feels different: precise, exquisite, unpretentious and timeless.
Yuu Shimano is one of the rare chefs in New York who were solidly trained in France and know how to cook the real classic French cuisine.
If you have ever dined at Mifune in Manhattan, you may have found his style in modern French-Japanese dishes where he served as the executive chef.
On May 19, also his 41st birthday, Shimano is opening his own place named Restaurant Yuu in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
He studied French at a top culinary school in Japan and its campus in Lyon, France. After graduating in 2002, he returned to Japan and worked at reputable French restaurants in Tokyo and Kobe for seven years, then moved back to France. He worked under top chefs and became the chef de partie of meats and sauces, an important position, at the three Michelin-starred (now with two stars) Guy Savoy in Paris.
With his proven ability, Shimano started to dream about opening his own restaurants in Paris. But there already were several successful Japanese chefs there. One of them and his close friend told him, “I have already achieved your dream. You should do something nobody has ever done before.”
While contemplating his future, Shimano was asked to become the executive chef at the newly opening restaurant Mifune in Manhattan. He moved to New York in 2017 to explore the opportunity.
Now, six years later, he aims to achieve something unprecedented: to become a great Japanese chef, cooking classic French in New York.
Shimano was hesitant to commit to this goal earlier though. “I am not French. I am not in cooking in Japan. Am I the right person to become successful in this city? I was not sure,” says Shimano.
Then his friend César Ramirez of The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, which has three Michelin stars, told him, “I am Mexican, cooking with Japanese ingredients in New York. You can do it.”
“He Does What He Says.”
Facing McCarren Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Restaurant Yuu is an airy space with high ceilings and large windows, which connects guests and the park’s nature.
Guests are seated at the 18-seat counter, which faces the spacious open kitchen. The dinner service begins at six for everyone—like a theater. Once the show begins, guests can watch the orchestrated flow of work that the kitchen team performs, as they enjoy conversations.
The menu consists of 20 or so dishes and after the dinner, guests are invited to relax at the generously-spaced lounge sofas behind the counter.
“Most investors would say, ‘Put more tables to increase revenue.’ But that is not what I wanted. I want to offer a whole experience of relaxation and excitement beyond delicious food. I am lucky to have a great team of supporters to understand my values.”
This “great team of supporters” seems the key to Shimano’s success so far. People who know him admire his talent to maintain a strong network of individuals who trust him.
Yuu Shimano does what he says—that is the reputation he has built over decades.
For instance, one of these supporters is his childhood friend who confidently invested a substantial amount of money in the new restaurant; Shimano met his pastry chef, Masaki Takahashi, many years ago at a pop-up event in Japan and said to each other, “Let’s create something great together one day.” Shimano kept his word and contacted him when he decided to open his restaurant.
The trust is mutual. When Shimano could not define the new restaurant’s concept, it was Takahashi who pushed the riskier direction of high-end gastronomy instead of a safer, more casual style of dining.
“It was a risky idea for him too. But he pushed it and cleared my vision,” says Shimano. “I used not to listen to anyone and tried to do everything by myself. But in the end, I learned that I could not achieve anything alone.”
He worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants in France. “One of the chefs I worked for had the attitude to constantly remind the cooks, ‘I am great and you should be honored to be here.’ I don’t want to be a chef like that.”
Classic French Cuisine Inspired By Familiar Flavors
At Restaurant Yuu, Shimano serves French cuisine. “It is not modern French or modern American, or Japanese-French,” he says definitively.
But you will certainly notice that there are Japanese components in his dishes.
“Our kitchen members happen to be all Japanese. When we brainstorm the menu, flavor inspirations often come from Japanese ingredients naturally because these are what we are very familiar with.”
For example, “Eel, Foie Gras” on the menu is a combination of sautéed foie gras and eel, flavored with the sweet, soy-based sauce used for traditional Japanese grilled eel dishes called kabayaki. “Foie gras is normally paired with the sweetness of fruits. We thought the Japanese eel sauce could offer a new dimension with its umami,” says Shimano. Also, he slips in a cube of daikon simmered with bonito flakes to lighten the richness of the dish and add subtle smokiness.
Topping the dish are crispy sunchoke chips for their natural vanilla-like scent and earthiness as well as powdered coffee beans whose bitterness and the sweetness of the sauce balance out.
“Duck Pie“ is another dish that represents his style and mindset. He cooks a house-aged whole duck by poaching. “Duck becomes evenly tender by poaching. Roasting is easier but I like the challenge to make a perfect dish,” he says.
Raising The Status Of The Restaurant Industry
“One day, I want to get three Michelin stars with my team,” says Shimano.
But his ultimate goal is to raise the status of the restaurant industry.
“During the pandemic, I was very impressed with how much the French government respected the restaurant industry and immediately took action to support it. But not every country recognized enough how much the industry contributes financially and culturally,” he says. “Japan was far behind France.”
Shimano thought that one way to change the status quo of Japan is to improve the image of the industry. “I am just an ordinary Japanese person from a small town in Japan but have been working very hard to make my dream come true. If I become a top chef on the global stage, I can inspire future generations who will elevate the status of the Japanese restaurant industry,” he says.
“It may sound ridiculous that I become a star chef. But 20 years ago, I got fixated on a TV interview with the legendary French chef Alain Ducasse. I had never imagined food could influence the world through magnificent restaurants and hotels.”
Yuu Shimano does what he says.
Let’s see how soon he will achieve his goals.