Is it strange to seek out French food in Japan? Perhaps. Is it strange to seek out French food in one of Japan’s washoku capitals? Undoubtedly. Yet on occasion, one stumbles upon a gem that is worthy of forgoing kaiseki for a dégustation. Bernard, owned by Takayuki Ushiyama, is one such restaurant, serving deliciously crafted French cuisine in the heart of Kanazawa.
Ushiyama made his bones in the south of France at a Michelin two-star restaurant, an experience he describes as both brutal and invaluable. For one year he lived away from his wife in a dingy flat lit by a single light bulb to train under an eccentric genius. He was willing to surrender even his name and assume something enunciatively acceptable for his French workmates: “Bernard.”
Upon entering the kitchen, his first reaction was shock. “The speed and amount of work was something I had never seen before. The crew agonized over everything from slicing vegetables to seasoning sauces. I lost weight even though I was eating four or five times a day,” says Ushiyama. He credits the head chef who commanded the rigor for his culinary talents: “It’s scary to think of the lousy food I’d be serving were it not for him.”
Two years after returning from France, Ushiyama opened his first restaurant, the eponymous Bernard. Once half a world apart, Ushiyama started, and continues, to work alongside his wife in the small restaurant tucked below an unassuming apartment building. While his role is limited to chef, his wife oversees two critical posts: server and taste tester. Her palette is the last hurdle a new dish must clear before reaching the dining room. “Chefs often lose sight of for whom they’re cooking. It’s customers, not other chefs. While we want to serve unique food, I sometimes have to reign in his creativity to make sure things don’t get too unfamiliar,” she says. While Ushiyama trusts her judgment, he does admit to occasional quarrels prompted by rejection.
Indeed, Ushiyama’s food is not traditional fare. For example, rather than a standard tomato gazpacho, he serves it with cherries. The sweet soup is a deep purple complemented by fat local shrimp and diced beets. For dessert, he likes to subtly sprinkle pop rocks atop ice cream for an unexpected fizzy burst. He is most playful on the second dessert course, crafting childhood favorites such as homemade cotton candy and ice pops. As for presentation, dishes like sardine-flavored crackers served in Italian sardine tins also draw smiles. “I don’t want to just serve good food. I want to serve fun,” Ushiyama says.
Unlike many of Kanazawa’s elite restaurants, Ushiyama is not beholden to Kaga yasai or any other local ingredient. In fact, several courses often pass before something local appears on a plate, most of which feature European meats, vegetables, and spices. Though the Noto Peninsula has famously delicious pork, he purposefully eschews it for its Hungarian counterpart. “I don’t want to serve something that the guest could easily pick up at the supermarket,” he explains.
When eating at Bernard, it’s easy to forget that one is in Japan. For those familar with French food, it’s a delightful retreat, if only for the perfectly crusty bread served with warm butter. For locals and travelers alike, the rich sauces and carefully chosen wines create a sense of journeying abroad.
Ushiyama aspires to earn a Michelin star, a goal troubled by the guidebook’s indisposition to visit the Hokuriku region. His talent is certainly worthy of their attention, and Ushiyama even admits a willingness to leave Kanazawa in order to achieve it. We advise a visit before it’s too late to experience this exceptional cuisine; “Bernard” promises you won’t leave unfulfilled.
Residence 2, Musashi 102
Lunch: 5 courses, 3500/ 6 courses, 5000 yen
Dinner: 7 courses, 8000 yen
Parking is available in adjacent lot