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Ultimate Iron Chef visits Okinawa

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-02-21

Hiroyuki Sakai, one of the world’s top chefs and a renowned Iron Chef, recently visited the Kadena Officers’ Club to prepare a special Valentine’s dinner for 80 lucky military members and their guests. With the decorations in place and the tables prepared, the diners excitedly talked to each other about the long-anticipated grand event. But before it all got under way, chefs from a variety of hotels around Okinawa were hard at work with the master Iron Chef preparing a variety of dishes of the highest quality. Sakai bases his work as a chef on one sound philosophy: Above all, every customer should be fully satisfied. Without a doubt, no guest, staff member or chef who participated in the event will ever forget this one single meal.

Sakai was born in 1942 in Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture. His first experience as a French cook came when he began working at Hotel Shin-Osaka at the age of 17. At 19 he got a job at Hotel Oriental in Australia, where he worked for a year and a half before returning to Japan. For three years starting in 1963, he trained under Fujio Shido, considered to be a leader in French cuisine in Japan. He then worked as a French chef at Coco Palms in Tokyo’s Aoyama district and at John Canaya Azabu. In 1980 Sakai opened his own restaurant, La Rochelle, in Minami-Aoyama at the age of 38 and served as its owner-chef. Nine years later La Rochelle moved to Shibuya, also in Tokyo, and Sakai started his second restaurant, Grand-Café. Later, in 1994, he was given a spot as one of the Iron Chefs on the Fuji TV program “The Iron Chef.” Five years later came La Rochelle Minami-Aoyama, and in September 1999 he became the strongest Iron Chef in the Ultimate Iron Chefs.

During his free time, Sakai enjoys playing golf, riding on jet skis and scuba diving. He also has a good sense of humor. When asked how many books he has authored, he said, “Oh, five or ten.” All of his books were written in Japanese, but “Iron Chef” has been translated into English and can be found on the Internet.

The special Valentine’s dinner marked the first time Sakai has ever prepared a special meal on a military installation. He decided to do this event as a volunteer to raise military morale and commented, “I like Kadena very much.”

Sakai has many friends working in different hotels around Okinawa. He comes to Okinawa every year and says he really likes it here. During the dinner event, many of his friends from a variety of local hotels came out to assist him. In fact, there were 50 staff members working the event, of which only five were from the Officers’ Club; the rest were Sakai’s friends and associates.

On the television program “Iron Chef,” a newcomer would challenge Iron Chefs specializing in various cuisines to a competition that allowed them to show off their individual cooking techniques and creativity. Sakai would often impress the viewers and judges by concocting delicious meals at a moment’s notice. Over time he has pioneered a style of cuisine that combines the best in Japanese and French foods. Appealing to all the senses, each of Sakai’s Valentine dishes proved to be masterpieces. The Iron Chef is without doubt a master chef, and this meal was a Valentine’s dinner worthy of royalty.

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