Photograph of Jun Tanaka courtesy of Pearl Restaurant & Bar
Here's a quick Q&A with Pearl Restaurant & Bar's Executive Chef, Jun Tanaka, whose Michelin-starred experience seems to exceed his youth. Jun's modern take on French cuisine along with the backing of the bar's inventive cocktail menu and a gorgeous setting makes any visit to Pearl exceptional. With this interview, Jun gives us the low down on what it was like to work with famed Marco Pierre White, where to dine and shop in London, how to be a better cook and more.
How did you come to be a chef? How long have you been professionally cooking and do you still find the work rewarding?
I was never very academic at school and I was not sure what I wanted to do. I started a management course at college, but I didn’t attend the classes very often and after the first year they told me that I was not allowed to come back. It was a bit of a shock and made me realise that I needed to make a decision on what I wanted to do. The only part of the course that I did attend was the cooking lesson once a week.
I asked my dad for a list of the best restaurants in London and I applied to them for work. I was lucky enough to be given a job at Le Gavroche and it went from there.
I became a chef in 2001 and I still enjoy it very much. I love it as it is creative and even though I have been cooking nearly 20 years, I learn something new every day so I never get bored of it. It is so rewarding when customers enjoy the food you make that is reignites your love for food and inspires you to keep creating new and innovative dishes.
Londonist last visited Pearl Restaurant and Bar to sample the bar’s Bloody Mary. We were intrigued (and equally pleased) by the cocktail’s tomato consommé ice cubes. Were the cubes (and the consommé) your idea? How much input do you have with respect to the bar menu? How integral is having a good bar to having a good restaurant?
Pearl’s Restaurant Manager, Russell Cocks, came up with the idea to put tomato ice cubes into the Bloody Mary, to make sure the flavour of the drink does not become diluted as the ice melts. He was going to use frozen tomato juice ice cubes, but as it was not clear it looked wrong. We were discussing what we could do and I suggested the consommé ice cubes, as they are clear and still have a really intense flavour.
I don’t have a lot of input into the bar menu, but when I can help to enhance a cocktail I love to get involved. We created a range of dessert cocktails which featured Bramley Apple Pie, with short crust pasty on top, and Lemon Meringue Pie with real meringue!
Not all restaurants have bars, so it is not essential to have a bar, but it does help to create a good atmosphere. It is nice for guests to be able to relax in the bar and enjoy the whole experience. From an operational point of view, a bar helps to stagger the sitting of the tables and allows for a better service.
You’ve worked in seven Michelin starred restaurants. What’s that like? Is the pressure much greater than at a non-starred but otherwise quality restaurant?
There is pressure in all restaurants, from gastro pub to Michelin star restaurants. The pressure you get in Michelin star restaurants is more intense as the standards are higher and to confidently cook to that kind of level is very intense. Working in a restaurants is hard work, but we do it because we love food and working in a Michelin star restaurant is very rewarding.
What was it like working under Marco Pierre White?
Working under Marco was the hardest place I have ever worked, because his standards are so high and he is very demanding in every way. I didn’t wake up every morning happy to go to work, but the reason I worked for him was to learn as much as possible. The opportunity to work with such a talented and highly regarded chef is invaluable.
Do you prefer dining out or eating in? Do you have any suggestions on where Londoners should be dining or shopping for food and drink?
Dining out wins every time! I love going to different restaurants to see what they are doing. London has a never ending supply of good restaurants. I never cook at home!
One of my favourite restaurants in London at the moment is Polpo, a Venetian tapas restaurant. It is fantastic for spontaneous dining, you can just pop in and have a few small dishes. It has a really great atmosphere too.
Borough Market is of course a fantastic place to buy produce. Bedales wine shop in Spitalfields Market has a fantastic selection of wines and they serve charcuterie.Whitecross Street Market is another great place to buy breads, cheeses and seasonal produce.
Any basic tips on how to be a better cook or advice for those in the restaurant industry?
Cooking at home is obviously very different to cooking in a professional kitchen, but good food comes from great produce so you should always use best possible ingredients. When you cook at home you have to be organised and it will make your life easier. When you follow a recipe, check you have all ingredients before you start. Prepare everything you need to, and then start to cook. That way your focus is on only one stage of the process and you won’t get confused. It is important to keep tasting everything that you do, at every stage, so that you get the seasoning correct.
Pearl Restaurant & Bar is located at 252 High Holborn (WC1V 7EN) beside the Renaissance London Chancery Court Hotel. Visit the restaurant online at www.pearl-restaurant.com.