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Chef’s Talk: Chef Jeff Ramsey on his ‘Japas’ and fun dining

As is evidenced in his award-wining and Michelin-starred Babe restaurant in Kuala Lumpur,  Chef Jeff Ramsey’s food is smashingly good. The Japanese-American Chef is heralded for his ‘Japas’ cuisine, a commingled word of Japanese fare and tapas.

Chef Jeff Ramsey at his new Bangkok restaurant, Kintsugi

Having trained under star-studded chefs such as Japan’s official Sushi Ambassador Masayoshi Kazato, Chef José Andrés of the legendary Catalonian, Spain, and Chef Ferran Adrià of elBullí, Spain, it comes as no surprise that the Japas cuisine he’s been developing and steeping himself in is the fruit of his culinary journeys invested in the two cuisines.

Having also been born in Japan and raised in Maryland, USA, the two heritages he grew up in inarguably contribute to his two-culture intuitions. Thereby merging culinary traditions into one seems more or less of a natural thing.

If, like us, you were sitting in the front row watching Chef Jeff and his team whip up an array of Japanese-accentuated tapas at the bar — yes, not the kitchen — as part of his dining pop-up at the Allium Bangkok (formerly The Reflexions) we would reach the following agreement. The intimate guest-chef interaction is the heart of Chef Jeff’s approach to fine dining, bringing about a true ‘fun’ dining experience, contrasting largely with the usual formal sit-down dinners commonly found in haute cuisine dining.

Following the success of this pop-up, there’s little to no wonder that we welcome Chef Jeff’s comeback to Bangkok with his new Bangkok-based restaurant, Kintsugi. Situated within The Athenee Hotel Bangkok, the progressive kaiseki-style Japanese restaurant will wow all diners with vivacious Japas fare, and a theatrical yet honest dining experience. Recently, we got to sit down and chat with Chef Jeff in a special foodie talk. Read all about his insights and thoughts in this full and exclusive interview with Chef Jeff Ramsey.


You’ve created this new style of food called 'japas.' What is japas?  

I was looking for a term that will best describe and characterise the type of food I’m cooking, which is a cross between Japanese food and tapas. So ‘japas’ makes perfect sense.

What are the most important elements for 'fun' dining?

Fun dining is not about adding theatrical elements; it is cooking and serving up fine food in a casual, relaxed environment. It’s also all about interacting with the guests, making them feel at home, and letting them engage with your cooking and your food. [smiles] If no one feels comfortable then there’s no point doing it. 

What was your first job in the kitchen?

I started working as a dishwasher when I was in middle school. Later on when I realised this is the path I wanted to pursue, I knew I wanted to train to become a sushi chef. This Japanese restaurant said I had to start as a dishwasher. I said I would do anything so I started as their dishwasher and slowly I worked my way up in the kitchen, picking up all the tricks and tips from the chef. In a Japanese kitchen, it’s an observational style of learning. You need to train your eyes to pick up little details.

Who is your role model?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be inspired by a lot of people that I work with. I learn a lot from the people I admire. And by people, I don’t mean just chefs; they are chefs, businessmen, speakers, and everyone that I find fascinating who can help me to grow as an individual in this field.

What meal inspired you to become a chef?

It’s not really a meal that made me want to be a chef. It’s more of a memory. I remember when I was in boarding school, my Korean roommate who had lived in Japan and I would always talk about the food we wanted to eat and every night we would just talk about food until we fell asleep. [laughs] That’s where my passion for food started. 

If you were to be an ingredient, what would you be and why?

Uni. It takes a while to get used to, but then you fall in love with it.

What is one food movie everyone should see?

Tampopo. It’s a food-focused Japanese movie, mainly about ramen. The movie does a really good job of showing how obsessed Japanese people can be when it comes to food. [laughs]

Why did you pick Bangkok as your next restaurant location?

Bangkok is a great city; sophisticated and energetic. People want to go out and really explore the food scene and I really like that.

What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Bangkok?

Wattanapanich in Ekkamai. They serve excellent stewed beef noodles with a clean beef flavour. The soup is also nicely balanced. 

What are the essentials in your pantry?

My pantry essentials are all Japanese ingredients and condiments. Soy sauce, sake, mirin, miso, yuzu kosho —  these are my must-have items.

Sushi or Steak?

Sushi, all the way.

Uni or jamon iberico?


Wine or water?

Water. I’m not a good drinker. [laughs]

Pineapple on pizza?

It’s fine. Pineapple on a pizza is no problem for me.

What do you eat for guilty pleasure?

Potato chips. It has to be the classic salted or sour cream and onion.

How often do you prepare your own meals at home?

Rarely — usually just breakfast. My wife is a very good cook so she cooks a lot for me and the kids. 

What is your favourite tool in the kitchen?

Common sense — it is the best tool and is much needed in the kitchen.

Do you find it challenging having to constantly create?

Creating, to me, is not challenging. I could sit down and think of a new dish when I focus. Inspirations can also always be found around me — in a book, in a movie. What is challenging to me is to have my staff understand and coordinate with how I want each dish to be. That’s why it’s good to work with people who know you and your style.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the kitchen?

Coming to work late. I really place great importance on being on time to work. 

What is your biggest regret in life?

I wish I took more time to meditate when I was younger to really explore a sense of self. It takes a lot of maturity — emotional maturity — to be a chef in the restaurant.

What is your greatest fear?

None. [smiles]

Your advice to aspiring chefs?

My advice is to find the food that makes you happy, even though it might not fall within any trend. In the restaurant, everybody must strive to find their own voice. Follow what’s in your heart and find the food that you love to eat and cook. Let’s face it: being a chef, with all the long hours and hard work, you won’t have a normal life, so you’d better make sure you’re happy cooking what you love. And don’t be afraid to do what people say is weird or stupid because along the way, you’re bound to find someone who truly sees your value and recognises your work.

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Sushi. [laughs]

It’s your last supper. What do you eat?

You know what’s really good? [Chef Jeff’s eyes glow here] Grilled Fugu (pufferfish) Sperm. I can have that as my last meal. Or maybe I can have my last supper at Sushisho Masa in Japan. It’s an incredible, incredible restaurant. 

Last but not least, what’s for dinner?

We are going to Eat Me!

Chef’s Talk: Chef Jeff Ramsey on his ‘Japas’ and fun dining

Kankanit Wichiantanon

Writer, Bangkok

Kankanit is a writer by day and a baker by night. If there’s one thing you should know about her, it’s that she can wax poetic about food 24/7. Her daily routine is writing, cooking, eating, repeat. They are the things that inspire her from morning 'til night.


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