When Arinobu Fukuhara, the founder of Shiseido, went to New York in 1900 and brought with him a drinking fountain – the machine, the syrup, the glasses, even the straws – and installed it in the Shiseido pharmacy in Ginza, little could he imagined it was establishing the company as the ultimate chic restaurant operator in Tokyo.
Today, Shiseido operates eight cafes and restaurants there, including a new rooftop restaurant in Harajuku that overlooks the Meiji Shrine gardens. The flagship is undoubtedly L’Osier, the three-star Michelin French restaurant that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and has been run by chef Olivier Chaignon since 2013. (Faro, the Italian restaurant in Shiseido, has earned a star.)
Housed in a building in downtown Ginza covered in golden camellia flowers, it seamlessly blends the best of both cultures. “This was one of the first French restaurants in Japan and is representative of the French art of living“Chaignon said during a morning interview in the restaurant’s private dining room, which seats only 10 and features Aubusson tapestries by Sonia Delaunay and Lalique sculptures. The main dining room seats 34 guests, who already book at Prices start at around 14,000 yen for a three-course lunch and go up to 50,000 yen (about $ 370 at current exchange rates) for four courses and two desserts, plus an appetizer, dessert cart, and coffee or tea.
“There are a lot of similarities between food and beauty,” continued Chaignon. “Cosmetics are for people’s beauty. The kitchen should make people happy, and when you are happy, you are beautiful ”.
Today it’s just after 8:30 am and L’Osier’s team of 44 chefs is busy preparing the myriad of items that will go to lunch and dinner. Chaignon changes the menu approximately every six to eight weeks, depending on the season, but some dishes, such as Chinese wild black abalone cooked in the shell with sea urchins, vegetables and smoked eel with Sancho leaves, and Saboyan green with abalone liver, they are so popular they have become signatures. It is served on a Limoges plate designed by Chaignon. Ditto the rolling dessert cart, laden with hand-made chocolates, candies, marshmallows, nougat and the like, which Chaignon redesigned early in his tenure, adding more layers to make it easier for diners to see the full range, as well as adding drawers that line up perfectly with the edge of the table when open.
As luxurious as it is, Chaignon is equally focused on sustainability. He works with researchers and organizations around the world on various projects, including a tea-growing cooperative founded by women in Sri Lanka; a university in Cambodia that recycles rice cracker waste to ultimately improve poultry egg-producing capabilities, and a French researcher who has linked a lactic acid bacterium found in olive trees in Okinawa, Japan, with one found in a grove near Alicante, Spain, which is thought to have a positive impact on longevity. Chaignon has formulated a special olive oil that is used (and sold) only in L’Osier from its fruit.
He’s as intent on innovating in the gastronomy area as his R&D counterparts are in skincare, meaning that while his dominance may be quite different from Shiseido’s core business, his mission isn’t. “The ultimate goal is to give people something special,” said Chaignon. “Of course, people can’t see it. But I want to give them something special and something that is good for their health ”.