Emi Hasegawa, Zaiyu’s wife, manages Den‘s front-of-house, and puts guests at ease (Zaiyu once joked that people come to see her and the dog, over him). The team offers a thoughtful and deeply personal service all the way, and was recognised with the Art of Hospitality Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019.
“I consider the entire team my family,” said Hasegawa. “It’s wonderful to be able to work with people I feel so close to everyday.” The team eat a daily family-style staff meal together, known as ‘makanai’, where they share their ups and downs with one another. “This really helps us bond as a team,” he said.
The likable chef, who was once voted ‘Chefs’ Choice’ by his peers, is always happy to give his sidekick, Pucci jr, the limelight, and doesn’t take life too seriously, much like his approach to food. Fun and playfulness find their way into most of Hasegawa’s dishes, where he draws his creativity from those around him. “I am often inspired by my customers and chef friends from around the world. I also get a lot of creative stimulation when I travel abroad – it’s not possible if you’re all alone.”
Favourite signature dishes at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant include the twenty-ingredient Den salad, with ingredients sourced from Hasegawa’s sister’s garden, completed by his trademark smiley-face emoji carrot and even a sprinkling of ants.
The ‘Dentucky’ Fried Chicken is another menu stalwart. Fried chicken wings in a crispy batter with steamed mochi rice and other seasonal ingredients are served in a customised takeout box with the chef’s smiling face in print.
With his newly opened Denkushiflori restaurant up and running, in collaboration with chef Hiroyasu Kawate of Florilège, he’s also looking to expand overseas, and is already in talks abroad. “Denkushiflori is a collaborative effort. We’d like to do it not only in Tokyo but also around the world. We are already in talks with partners abroad about our overseas expansion. So stay tuned.”
Who better than Hasegawa to hold the torch for the future of Japan’s cuisine, inject fun into the future of fine dining, and bring a smile to the industry once again?