In Conversation With Chef Jun Tanaka

After learning his craft in the UK’s best restaurants throughout the 1990s, Chef Jun Tanaka has enjoyed a successful and varied career so far. As Chef Owner of the Michelin starred The Ninth on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, his latest venture takes him further afield, to Hong Kong, where he has collaborated with The Upper House (read our review of the Upper House here) to open contemporary restaurant Salisterra. Read on to discover more.

What made you want to become a Chef? 

As far back as I can remember, food has always been a passion. Growing up, the family dinner was the highlight of my day and my mother is a fantastic cook so it was always a treat. Even as a child there was nothing I wouldn’t eat. Loving food so much, it felt completely natural for me to become a chef, so with the guidance of my father I started my career at the age of 19. 

Why did you choose Hong Kong and The Upper House as your next culinary endeavour? 

The Upper House is an iconic hotel, recognised around the world and to be able to collaborate on their new restaurant was too good an opportunity to miss. Hong Kong is an exciting, vibrant city with a rich gastronomic landscape and to be a part of this was inspiring. 

How does Salisterra at The Upper House differ from The Ninth on Charlotte Street? 

The Ninth is a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant in Fitzrovia and Salisterra is on the 49th floor of The Upper House overlooking the HK skyline. The whole dining experience at Salisterra is more refined from the decor to the service, crockery and presentation. But, the flavours and the essence of the dishes are very similar to each other. 

What inspired the Salisterra menu?

It’s inspired by the flavours, ingredients & colours of the coastal regions of France and Italy. I trained in classic French cuisine and my favourite country is Italy. 

What destination or life experience has inspired your cooking the most? 

I don’t think there is one particular life experience or destination that has inspired me more than another. It’s a combination of my experiences in all the different restaurants that I have worked in. I have taken what I believe were the best parts of each of the restaurants and used them to inspire my own style of cooking.

What is your favourite dish on the Salisterra menu? 

The langoustine ravioli. The combination of shellfish and pasta is hard to beat. 

How have you found launching Salisterra during a pandemic from London? 

It has been one of the most challenging experiences of my career. Once I realised that I might not be able to travel to Hong Kong, I designed a training schedule that we could execute remotely. We created recipe presentations of all the dishes, complete with step-by-step photos and how-to videos. Then, the chefs in Hong Kong tested the recipes, shared them with me online and we had weekly Zoom meetings to discuss any feedback and adjustments. We did this for four months before opening Salisterra. For the Front of house, I created menu description videos where I would explain the ingredients and cooking processes of each dish and the inspiration behind them. None of this would have been possible without the incredible team at The Upper House. Chris, our head chef and Fai, our pastry chef, were instrumental in ensuring connectivity and the smooth running of things. It really was team work! 

What is your favourite dish to cook? 

I can’t choose just one dish but I really love cooking seafood, particularly shellfish. 

Who would you most like to cook for and why? 

Stanley Tucci. I’ve been watching his new series Searching for Italy and it’s brilliant! He travels around different regions of Italy, discovering the local culture and cuisine, while also uncovering its history. I can tell he understands and appreciates good food. I think he’ll be a fun person to cook for, and apparently, he’s a great cook himself too! 

What does luxury mean to you?

Right now, after 18 months of going in and out of lockdown, luxury for me is being able to travel freely again.

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