David Tamburini: when you end up in Kobe

The chef from Florence tells us about his new adventure at the helm of hotel restaurant Level 36, in the popular Japanese town

09-06-2021
Since March 2020, David Tamburini is the chef at r

Since March 2020, David Tamburini is the chef at restaurant Level 36, on the 36th floor of hotel Ana Crowne Plaza in Kobe, on the Bay of Osaka

My family and I arrived in Japan in February 2020, only weeks before the first cases of Covid-19. Perhaps you will remember that here it all began with a series of infections on a cruise ship moored in Yokohama.

I took the role of chef of restaurant Level 36, on the 36th floor of hotel Ana Crowne Plaza in Kobe. I started in March 2020; in April, however, when the first state of emergency was declared, we were forced to close. The owners decided to open only a few weeks ago [the Italian version of this piece was published early in May 2021], a choice that was taken because of the uncertain forecasts and government incentives.

Despite the pandemic, everyday life is not much different from usual: shops and businesses never closed, except for some limitation in terms of opening hours for bars and restaurants, closing at 8 p.m. Japanese law doesn't impose for businesses to close: it just gives recommendations and advice.

Over the past few weeks, infections have increased strongly. Despite the relatively low numbers compared to the West (3-4 thousand infections per day), as I write the government is about to pass the third state of emergency, which this time has commercial businesses close until the 11th of May.

David Tamburini, 47

David Tamburini, 47

Level 36 by day...

Level 36 by day...

...and by night

...and by night

WHY KOBE? How was the Kobe adventure born? I seriously started to consider moving to Japan in mid-2019. I had been working for a few years in Bangkok, Thailand, at gourmet restaurant La Scala inside the Sukhotai hotel [we wrote about it here]. My career had come to a halt: having a Japanese wife and a new-born baby reinforced a long desire to understand the cuisine of Japan. Bangkok and Kobe are very different, culturally, economically and even structurally city: while the former is a metropolis, the latter is a town. I needed to go back to the “province”, see the nature around me, rediscover lost energies, leave the unstopping routine of the city and its competitiveness. At 47 I discovered a strength that gives me the tranquillity of leaving behind what's useless.

For some reason I always thought that my way of cooking would fit well with Japanese taste. An intuition I can't wait to develop. Among the different options, Kobe was without doubt the less illustrious and uncertain but, at the same time, it was the one that would give me most autonomy and the possibility to express myself freely. I visited the building and sincerely fell in love with the city. A strip of land between mountains and ocean, an elegant and relaxed city, the countryside only a few steps away. I had to choose this place and, for now, I'm very happy.

ITALIAN CUISINE. Of course, my cuisine has changed over time, it has evolved. Perhaps it's true what they say: you realise you're a cook at 50. I believe I've always made elegant food; but with a strong popular/regional touch, very Italian in its essence. Working abroad for a few years now has strengthened this desire of being recognised as Italian, and hence further simplify the recipes, seeking more immediacy, in terms of flavours and gestures. Few filters and, as usual, lots of pans and cooking. That's how I see it, at least.
Grilled tuna throat on water of red onions, capers and oregano from Sicily

Grilled tuna throat on water of red onions, capers and oregano from Sicily

Garganelli asparagus, jowl bacon and pecorino 

Garganelli asparagus, jowl bacon and pecorino 

Sawara (mackerel), garum, bella di Cerignola and raw cauliflower with lemon

Sawara (mackerel), garum, bella di Cerignola and raw cauliflower with lemon

I run a brigade of 5 people, which given the uncertain times is alright. A small team is usually closely knit, and instruction won't get lost on the way. I'm used to it and I like it. I don't know if it's the same for my team :).

LOST IN TRANSLATION. Language is a huge obstacle in Japan. Very few people speak English and my Japanese is enough to get by in the kitchen. “Rituals” are completely different from what I've experienced so far: sometimes I even find it hard to get if they want to sell me a product or prefer to keep it for themselves. I'm still “young” in Japan, I have plenty to learn. For now, I try to stop my Mediterranean instinct and make an effort to observe. I need to create a special feeling with my workplace. I think I have found it here because I like it, I like it very much. We'll see if time will confirm this feeling or not.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Chefs' life stories

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