Michelin-Star Chef Yuichi Kamimura on his Restaurants and why Niseko is best at 3 AM

In Niseko, a town full of foodie gems, one name that gets mentioned over and over is Yuichi Kamimura.

Kamimura-san is the chef and creative mind behind two of Niseko’s finest – Michelin-star restaurant KAMIMURA, and Kitchen. KAMIMURA is unmistakably French, inspired by Kamimura-san’s time studying under Tetsuya Wakuda at Tetsuya’s, the renowned Sydney restaurant. Kitchen, a favourite spot of The Luxe Nomad team, is a modern dining lounge that serves a sophisticated fusion menu.

That aside, Kamimura-san is a laugh and a half. He’s a jovial man, who is unapologetically himself and an absolute creative genius. Here, learn all about his restaurants, how he ended up in Niseko, and why he thinks 3 AM is the best time to be outside.

Can you tell us a little about your culinary journey and how you came to open KAMIMURA in Niseko?

I spent five years in Australia, 2000 – 2005, and I decided to come back to where I come from, Hokkaido. When I was in Australia, I worked at a very famous restaurant, Tetsuya. After five years at Tetsuya, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like Tetsuya-san, my boss.

I started in Sapporo because I’m from Hokkaido and Sapporo is a big town. At that time (2005), I came to Niseko and nothing was going on. Niseko was a very old ski resort. There was nothing to see and nothing going on. I thought there was no way I could do what I wanted to do with a restaurant there. I had to be in a city.

Many things happened for me to move to Niseko. One was that the Japanese economy wasn’t that good, and people don’t come to my restaurant because they are hungry. They come to my restaurant because they want the experience or to spend time with friends. People couldn’t appreciate the atmosphere.

I had trained in Australia because everyone there was motivated; they like to enjoy their lives and were happy to spend money to do that. They enjoy everything, and that’s what I wanted for my guests. In Niseko, I get to have that relationship with Australians and people like them.

Menuke Olive at KAMIMURA

KAMIMURA is a Michelin-star restaurant! How did that change the game for you?

I never thought of any Michelin stars when I started my restaurant. For me, I liked to enjoy seeing people eating my food and having a good time. It was very simple.

The Michelin-star has been very important for us because it has brought a lot of publicity.

Both your restaurants, KAMIMURA and Kitchen, are amongst the hottest reservations in town. What’s your philosophy for the two locations?

KAMIMURA Interior

Including my time in Sapporo, I’ve had my restaurants for nearly 15 years now. Over 15 years, of course, everything changes. There are many new ideas and things I want to do. When I first started, KAMIMURA was in the style that I really wanted to do – set menus with all local ingredients. People would come to my restaurant, and they didn’t have to worry about anything because there were only set menus. They’d just enjoy my food and drink.

But I’ve done the same thing for 15 years. I wanted to do something a bit different. The new restaurant, Kitchen, is a la carte and full of my new ideas – all the ones I came up with over those years. Kitchen is a more culturally diverse restaurant, with ingredients from Hokkaido and around the world. Kitchen is more “anything goes”.

When I just want to have a good time and be with my friends, I go to KAMIMURA. When I want something cosy, where I don’t have to get very fancy, I like Kitchen.

Kitchen Interior

What’s your favourite thing about running two very different restaurants?

KAMIMURA is all my ideas, but at Kitchen, there are other chefs, and we can share ideas. It’s getting to work on the classics and still getting to do new and creative things.

Part of The Luxe Nomad team visited Kitchen last year, and they said it reminded them of a speakeasy. How did that come about?

I didn’t mean to! The entrance used to be some guest rooms access.

Are there any new concepts you’re working on for the upcoming season that you can share with us?

Especially for Kitchen, we have a new chef who has come in. He’s been working as a sushi chef, so we have a new sushi technique. So, we’re getting a new mixture and different ideas of cooking. I’m learning many things from him.

Foodie Delights at Kitchen

Are there any quiet spots in the area where you love spending time?

I like just going driving. We have beautiful, varied four seasons here. Like now, snow is already coming down, it’s beautiful, but at the same time, I feel a bit sad because the leaves are coming down. I always think about new menus in autumn. The colours are beautiful here, the yellows and the reds. All the new feelings come to me naturally then.

Do you get to go skiing at all?

I don’t get to do much skiing. I don’t mind though. I get to at the end of the season. And I got to go skiing when I was young. There was nothing else to do as a child. It was always snowing outside, and there were no computer games, so it was the only choice. I used to take my ski gear to the mountains and just ski.

Besides skiing, what’s one thing you think everyone should experience when in Niseko?

Mt Yotei a-glow || Flickr user Avisionn Photo CC by 2.0

If you want to enjoy our culture in the winter, and you’re with your family, inside the house is very nice and warm! So, we spend a lot of time inside the house.

If you’re coming with your friends – just have fun! I recommend going outside at night. Nighttime, like 3 or 4 in the morning when it’s dark, and there is no one out. It’s very, very beautiful, but at that time people must be a little bit drunk. It makes things even better. Seriously, 3 or 4 in the morning is very beautiful; you don’t hear anything but the snow coming down from the sky and touching the ground. Ok, you don’t hear it, but you can feel it.

Onsens are good, especially in the wintertime. I only go to the outside onsen in winter; it’s really special. Your head is outside, and it’s nice and cold, and your body is inside, and it’s nice and warm. You can be in the onsen for an hour, and sometimes you can drink and be with friends.

Just enjoy the culture and the cold weather!

Read also: Beyond the Slopes: 7 things to do in Niseko even if you’re not skiing

When you go on vacation, where are you headed?

I would go to Hawai’i and go to the beach – we don’t have one here. We have everything else, but we don’t have nice beaches here! Definitely Hawai’i.

What is the best thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?

That’s easy – you have to enjoy everything you do. There’s no point if you get frustrated by it. Of course, there will be times when you get frustrated, but in the end, the most important thing is that you enjoy what you do.

About the restaurants: 

Kamimura:

Dress: Alpine elegance
Open: Dinner only, Monday to Saturday
Where: Hyatt House Niseko, 190-4 Aza Yamada, Kutchan-Cho, Abuta-gun
Price Point: ¥9,000 per person for the 6-course Early Bird Dinner (only available for 6 PM seating), ¥18,000 per person for the Chef’s Degustation menu.
Reservations: Click here

Kitchen:

Dress: Alpine chic
Open: Dinner only, Monday to Saturday
Where: Hyatt House Niseko, 190-4 Aza Yamada, Kutchan-Cho, Abuta-gun
Price Point: ¥5,000 deposit for the a la carte menu or a minimum spend of ¥5,500 per person for Omakase menu.
Reservations: Click here

What do you enjoy?

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Elisabeth Forsman

Our predictably unpredictable adventure nomad, Elisabeth is the yogi who wants it fast, the ultra-runner who prefers taking a hike, and the swimmer with a fear of lap pools. A consummate lover of all things outdoors, she’s on a perpetual quest to get those around her outside and moving.

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