The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

FOOD | NEW YORK

May 2014
Federico Heinzmann: Food, Flavors, and Freedom

By Megan Waters
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Federico Heinzmann, the newly appointed chef de cuisine at the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Grill & Bar, has only been in Japan for a few months but is well on the way in his mission to understand the Japanese customer.

With a “special affection” for Asian culture and food—and Japanese cuisine in particular—Heinzmann believes a nation’s food reflects numerous characteristics.

“To understand the food, you first need to understand the people; how they eat and why they eat that way,” he explained.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the 39-year-old has worked in a number of European countries where he honed his cooking skills. He joined the Hyatt group in 2006 as chef de cuisine at Park Hyatt Buenos Aires’s Gioia Restaurante & Terazzas (2006–’08) and the Duhau Restaurante & Vinoteca (2009–’12).

However, Heinzmann had a desire to go to Asia and, in 2012, after a lot of hard work, his dream came true. He joined the Cornerstone restaurant at Park Hyatt Seoul in 2012. “To a chef, and for a lot of Latin Americans, Tokyo is a dream destination.”

Inspired by the Japanese palette, kaiseki ryori (a traditional, multi-course Japanese dinner), with its use of subtle flavors, delicacy, and precision, helped Heinzmann understand Japanese cuisine.

“Sometimes Latins are quite explosive when we cook. But the philosophy of the way of the Japanese is very different,” he said.

“Chefs who come to Japan and then go back to their own country return more polished in their techniques, temper, and character.”

According to Heinzmann, one of the challenges of Latin American food is finding luxury items with which to cook. Argentines eat a very “humble cuisine” and learn how to cook very simple dishes. However, when Heinzmann moved to Europe early in his career, he began to understand finer ingredients and is happy to be able to find more luxurious components here. However, he tries to produce “luxury yet seasonal items, cooked properly, and treated in a simple way.”

The New York Grill & Bar—located on the 52nd floor of the Shinjuku hotel—features floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views of the city, a stylish interior with contemporary art, as well as an open kitchen surrounded by counter seating allowing customers to experience the dynamic of the kitchen.

But most impressive is the extensive menu. At the heart of the restaurant are grilled and seasonal foods, as well as statement presentation. Each chef brings with him to the position the legacy and expectations of the restaurant, but has the opportunity to decide what menu items to keep and polish, as well as the chance to add their own stamp.

To showcase his style, character, and his origins, Heinzmann developed a limited-period special dinner menu, Federico’s Style. Offered between April 11 and 24, the five-course dinner was produced in celebration of the hotel’s 20th anniversary.

“The menu is appropriate for spring, and uses very seasonal ingredients,” he explained. Light and fresh flavors infuse the menu: octopus ceviche with finger lime and passion fruit, pan-fried black cod and scallop with smoked cauliflower cream, and grilled beef sirloin from Gunma Prefecture with double carrot cream. To finish, Heinzmann even included his beloved dulce de leche (a caramelized dessert from South America).

The regular menu has a diverse medley of offerings, including steaks using Japanese, American, and Australian beef; fish; plenty of vegetarian options; and a cheese selection. In addition, there are two dynamic set menus, which have smaller portions and regional items.

“We are looking for the best products we can get from Japan. We are a product-driven restaurant, and dynamic because we try to change according to the seasons,” he said.

“We really have a special way of cooking the steaks. The seafood is a nice selection of fresh, classic items.

“We try to mix everything; luxury and things that look simple, like a carrot, but if you cook it in the right way it’s very tasty.”

Among chef Heinzmann’s favorite items on the menu are the surf and turf, a “surprise” for guests, as well as the mashed potatoes—a signature dish that has been around since the opening of the restaurant.

To make the menu more interesting and cater to a broader clientele, a bigger selection of vegetarian options and smaller portions have been included on the menu since April.

Although walk-ins are accepted, it is highly recommended that reservations be made, especially for Friday and Saturday nights. This allows the needs of customers to be better met, in terms of tables, settings, and menus.

According to Heinzmann, the sunken seating areas ensure privacy for large business meetings. Meanwhile, counter seats—that allow one to watch the chefs in action—are perfect for special occasions and for people who are unaccompanied.

For ACCJ Journal readers who like to cook, Heinzmann recommends inspiring yourself. “Choose the music, shop in the market, get inspiration there and buy what you want to buy. Enjoy the moment. Put music on and have a glass of wine. Make time, think about how you will do it. Enjoy the process. Get in a ritual, and it will become more fun.

“There are many resources you can use, such as recipe books or the internet, but for me, cooking provides freedom.”

He also recommends trying to organize trips around food.

“I often get lost in a new city and find something new there by mistake. As a chef, this is very important,” he said.

“Everyone thinks you need to be in the kitchen 100 percent of your time, but for me it is very important to move around and bring different inspirations to the restaurant.

“This is very important as a chef and for the team, the producers, and the guests. If I am only in the kitchen, I will never be able to see what is going on.”

Megan

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Megan Waters

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