Obituary: Shizuo Tsuji
SHIZUO TSUJI was a Foodie hero. I first met him in the Eighties in Hong Kong, at a spectacular recreation of a Chinese Imperial banquet that lasted three days. In his dinner jacket Tsuji was strikingly handsome and youthful. In the international crowd that had gathered to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the Mandarin Hotel he struck me, perversely, as a particularly fine example of the species of English Gentleman. When he told me that he had a flat in Belgravia and a son at an English public school, I was not surprised.
Tsuji was head of the Ecole Technique Hotelier Tsuji in Osaka, the largest establishment for training chefs in Japan. Though his father was a baker, the young Tsuji was academically inclined, and graduated with a degree in French literature from Waseda University in Tokyo, before becoming a journalist on the Yomiuri Shimbun.
It was only after he wrote a feature on Japanese cooking schools that he decided to train as a chef himself and become a cookery teacher. First he spent several years studying Japanese cooking, and his book Japanese Cookery: a simple art (1980), with a sympathetic introduction by MFK Fisher, was the distillation of what he learnt during these years. Next he took himself off to France - he had a good command of the language - and trained with several of the rising nouvelle cuisine chefs.
In 1960 Tsuji returned to Osaka, and expanded a small domestic cookery school belonging to his father-in-law into the present business where 4,500 students a year are trained in 17 different schools. They offer one-year courses in French, Japanese and Chinese cooking, and are the explanation of why there is at least one Japanese chef working in nearly every great kitchen in France and every other kitchen in the United States. There was also an establishment in France, the Centre de Perfectionnement at Liegues near Villefranche sur Saone, where 80 Tsuji graduates each year could complete their expertise in French cooking.
When I last counted, Tsuji had written 29 books on food, travel and music. The most sought-after book in the food world is his privately printed edition, limited to 500 copies, of Careme's drawings of his pieces montees, which must count as one of the world's heaviest books; it weighs in at 12 kilos. Tsuji owned an enormous collection of Bach recordings, and he was an honorary Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a distinction normally reserved for chefs who can pass a rigorous competitive examination.
Tsuji was the chief Foodie of Japan. (He was unpompous, had an acute sense of humour and did not object to the irreverent epithet coined by Ann Barr and me in 1984.) Some day, he promised, he was going to show me the traditional Japanese ryokan. I am sad that I left it too late.
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