It began an as amateur’s dream and transformed into a professional reality. In 2010 Andrew Kojima, ubiquitously nicknamed Koj, watched a MasterChef final performed in India. Inspired by his love of cooking and the allure of travel he abandoned his existing world of fund management to pursue a career as a chef. Koj applied to participate in MasterChef 2012, the entry process was a few basic questions online but during that year of 2011 they had 24,000 entries, thus a 3 month interval ensued before telephone interviews were realised and finally face to face interviews, when the surviving applicants had to submit dishes. Applicants were assessed not only for culinary potential but for their ability to cope with a competitive and pressurized TV situation. Koj’s original clear gazpacho (an idea derived from Raymond Blanc) and his genial temperament won him a place in the competition. Koj’s finalist 3 course meal consisted of a pork, lobster and strawberry starter salad, a main dish of lamb with miso and aubergines followed by a panacotta pudding infused with roast acorns. The judges did not appreciate the strawberry element and Koj came second. The kudos of this result fast tracked him into the celebrity kitchens of Gordon Ramsay, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal. He found the restaurant world massively competitive but a close fraternity, open to the pollination of new ideas, after various experiences in Michelin starred French, British, international and pastry kitchens, Koj went solo.
Koj is inquisitive about how Japanese cooking traditions and techniques have evolved. He reckons Japan has only been carnivorous for about 200 years as previously a nation of devoted Buddhists.
Suddenly Koj’s wife, a surgeon, was transferred by the NHS from London to the shires, it was big step for a young family to move from the city. Koj had never lacked for creative business ideas, he studied Classics at Oxford and his complexion and wonderfully black eyes bear testimony to his heritage, half Japanese on his father’ side and Scottish on his mother’s side. Following the recognition of “Washoku”, the hereditary mysteries and savoir fair of Japanese cuisine, by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” asset in 2013, Koj rebranded himself as a Japanese influenced freelance chef, food writer and cookery teacher. Now veritably a master chef, his clientele is un-exaggeratedly diverse, with many from the horse racing set including 2013 Sportsman of the Year jockey A.P. McCoy and HM The Queen, actor Eddie Redmayne, supermodels and Indian magnates.
Koj is inquisitive about how Japanese cooking traditions and techniques have evolved. He reckons Japan have only been carnivorous for about 200 years as previously a nation of devoted Buddhists. Like most national cuisines Washoku is up for controversial C21st re-interpretation; Koj sees as “Tonkatsu” is basically an Austrian schnitzel adapted to local tastes and “California Rolls” are an innovation to attract the western consumer.
Today Koj’s ambitions are expanding, he is looking for an urban restaurant location, where he can make familiar Japanese tastes and flavours compatible with western style dishes; accordingly when this reporter met Koj he had just been topping up his larder with truffle products to concoct dishes that combine European truffles with Japanese noodles, wagyu beef and shitake mushrooms.