Shinobu Namae: The Iconic Chef Pioneering Sustainable Fine Dining in Japan

 Shinobu Namae of L’Effervescence in Tokyo truly walks the talk when it comes to sustainable practices in gastronomy and has won accolades for his efforts. 

05 October 2023

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Photo Credit: L’Effervescence

When Shinobu Namae’s parents sent him to Japan’s elite Keio University to study political science they weren’t counting on him becoming a chef. Thirty years later, their dismay at his chosen career path has since turned into pride as Namae is a name to reckon with globally as a chef championing sustainable food concepts in fine dining.

Namae, Japan’s award-winning chef, is finding new ways to inject his culinary vision with sustainability, ethics, and refreshing authenticity at his restaurant L’Effervescence in Tokyo. This has won him numerous accolades including the prestigious Icon Award 2023 as part of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Yokohama-born Namae has worked with highly celebrated chefs before starting his own restaurant. He has done stints as a sous chef at Michel Bras Toya Japan in Hokkaido and The Fat Duck in the U.K. In 2010 he opened L’Effervescence in Tokyo and was soon awarded three stars as well as the new Green Star award in the 2023 MICHELIN Guide Tokyo. He also runs a bakery in Roppongi called Bricolage Bread & Co, where the focus is on using local Japanese wheat and natural fermentation. Additionally, Japan Airlines’ business class passengers get to sample his delectable dishes rooted in conscious cuisine.

  Photo Credit: L’Effervescence         

From Dishwasher to Culinary Master

Namae’s culinary journey began in a modest pasta restaurant near his university, where he started as a dishwasher to support himself through college. His dishwashing duties soon progressed to chopping up onions and garlic and then there was no looking back. He initially aspired to cook Italian cuisine as he liked the simplicity and authenticity of Italian fare. His culinary journey led him to New York, where he immersed himself in international cuisine.

Namae, who had an aversion to French food as he perceived it to be too fancy and complex, had a change of heart after a visit to a culinary bookshop where he stumbled upon “Essential Cuisine” by Michel Bras, a renowned French chef who emphasized the integrity of ingredients. This encounter dispelled his aversion to French cuisine and he became captivated by Bras’ honest approach to cooking. Subsequently, he had the opportunity to work at Bras’ restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan, solidifying his commitment to the culinary world.

Photo caption: Chef Shinobu Namae’s signature dish “Fixed Point” is a symbol of the restaurant’s culinary evolution. | Photo Credit: L’Effervescence

Blend of Influences

Namae’s culinary philosophy evolved over the years. He incorporated elements from both Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, embracing French technique and flow while emphasizing the use of 99 per cent Japanese ingredients. The result was a unique blend of flavours and techniques that was appreciated by critics and diners alike.

While some molecular gastronomy elements remained, Namae’s dishes transitioned towards a more natural and sustainable approach. His signature dish, “Fixed Point,” a slow-cooked turnip bathed in butter, became a symbol of the restaurant’s journey. Originally intended as a seasonal item, it earned its name because it marked the starting point of its culinary evolution and sustainability commitment.

Awards and Sustainability

L’Effervescence has gained recognition and won many awards as Namae’s brand of ethical cuisine goes beyond produce and presentation. He makes conscious choices in gastronomy and seeks to inspire others to follow, prioritising connections with nature, farmers, fishers, and hunters. He forages and free dives to document the health of marine ecosystems in Japan’s coastal waters and explores methods that reduce fine dining’s impact on climate change. At L’Effervescence, the interiors incorporate tradition with earthen walls and the sources of electricity are sustainable —such as the use of firewood for cooking, collected from forest thinning. 

On a global scale, he helps to address international concerns such as reviving coastal waters.

Photo Credit: L’Effervescence

Namae remains conscious of the divide between fine dining and accessibility and believes in expanding the reach of fine dining knowledge and skills to benefit the broader community. Namae’s passion extends beyond the kitchen–he studies agricultural economics and marine biology while advocating for biodiversity and sustainable practices, encouraging people to support local producers and be more thoughtful about their food choices.

His efforts resulted in him being invited to give a speech at the UN’s World Oceans Day conference on June 8 2022, about the importance of collective action to revitalize the oceans’ health. Namae represented Relais and Châteaux at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.

On this occasion, he spoke of the role of chefs in conscious dining by saying “A chef doesn’t only cook delicious things. A chef is a person who can connect the

producers and eaters to agree upon an absolute idea that every life is important. We have to pave the broken road between nature and culture to show how we are all connected”

Namae is also working closely with WWF Japan to reduce IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing) in Japan.

Photo Credit: L’Effervescence

An Icon in the Making

Namae’s journey from a university student washing dishes to an award-winning chef and sustainability advocate is a testament to his passion, dedication, and the transformative power of food. As he continues his journey, he remains focused on understanding humanity through food, forging connections, and inspiring positive change within the restaurant industry and beyond. 

“Every change starts from a tiny little thing that could turn into a chain reaction for positive change,’’ says Namae.  “Our role is to be an example of this positive change, by using more environmentally friendly products and supporting the producers who grow these kinds of ingredients. It doesn’t happen in one day, but by being persistent and patient I think we have made some good progress”.

Photo Credit: L’Effervescence

Author: Pooja Thakur

Pooja Thakur is a senior journalist, writer, and editor with over 20 years of experience in print and digital media and in creating custom content for periodicals. She has been a long-serving senior reporter at Bloomberg News covering areas such as real estate, stocks and personal finance and inventing across markets with a focus on Southeast Asia and India. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving, rucking and finding the newest watering hole in town.

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