One of Japan’s top chefs used his BARE HANDS to stir boiling oil

Real asbestos fingers! Meet the Japanese chef who doesn’t stir the food in boiling oil – he uses his BARE HANDS

  • Shuji Niitokme, 44, is considered one of Japan’s top chefs
  • He flies around the world with his favourite cooking pan and steel chopsticks
  • One of his fans says his tempura ‘melts in your mouth like snow’ 

‘Don’t try this at home!’ I’m warned by a bystander, as the Japanese chef I’m watching suddenly dips his hand into a pan of boiling cooking oil.

Shuji Niitokme, 44, is considered one of Japan’s top chefs when it comes to tempura (seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried) and a tasting menu at his eponymous 10-seat restaurant in the city of Nagoya costs £240 per head.

The culinary whizz tells me that he first became fascinated by tempura as a teenager and after more than two decades of plunging his fingers into hot oil to ensure it’s the perfect temperature – he no longer feels pain.

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Shuji Niitokme, 44, is considered one of Japan's top chefs when it comes to tempura (seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried)
A tasting menu at Niitokme's eponymous 10-seat restaurant in the city of Nagoya costs £240 per head

Shuji Niitokme, 44, is considered one of Japan’s top chefs when it comes to tempura (seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried) and a tasting menu at his eponymous 10-seat restaurant in the city of Nagoya costs £240 per head

The culinary whizz  says that he first became fascinated by tempura as a teenager and after more than two decades of plunging his fingers into oil to ensure it's the perfect temperature - he no longer feels pain

The culinary whizz  says that he first became fascinated by tempura as a teenager and after more than two decades of plunging his fingers into oil to ensure it’s the perfect temperature – he no longer feels pain

The jolly chef, who is wearing socks and flip flops while he cooks, laughs and shows me his hands. 

They look rather sore, with yellow skin around his finger nails weeping slightly, but Niitokme sees no cause for concern and gets back to cooking.

I’m watching the eccentric cheft at Yashin Ocean House, a restaurant in Kensington, London, which has been hired by All Nippon Airways in collaboration with food blog Luxeat as the venue for a culinary festival to show off Japanese cooking.

Niitokme, one of 10 or so chefs at the event, reveals that he flew over from Japan with his favourite tempura frying pan in tow.

Niitokme reveals his hands, which have taken quite a beating over the years in the kitchen

Niitokme reveals his hands, which have taken quite a beating over the years in the kitchen

Niitokme says that he likes listening to the bubbles and the hissing of his pan, as it indicates when the tempura is ready

Niitokme says that he likes listening to the bubbles and the hissing of his pan, as it indicates when the tempura is ready

He also travelled with some of his essential ingredients, including his special tempura flour which he chills at around -50 degrees Celsius for two days before cooking, so that it dissolves better in the batter.

Along with his hands, Niitokme uses stainless steel chopsticks to flip morsels as he coats them in oil and batter.

The culinary pro says that he likes listening to the bubbles and the hissing of his pan, as it indicates when the tempura is ready. 

One his fans, Nanako Murakami, a marketing manager for All Nippon Airways, tells me that she loves Niitokme’s tempura because it ‘melts in your mouth like snow’. 

Niitokme underwent years of training before going independent and opening his own restaurant in 2013

Niitokme underwent years of training before going independent and opening his own restaurant in 2013

Being in London, Niitokme decided to try cooking with some ingredients that are unavailable in Japan, including portobello mushrooms and celeriac.

He then visited fish markets in the city to get the freshest shrimp, crab and scallops he could find.

After tasting a selection of his goods, I can confirm that they are supremely light in texture, although much tastier than snow!

I guess what’s so intriguing about Niitokme is the passion and dedication he has for what he does. 

And after seeing his burned and weeping hands, he’s certainly a chef who suffers for his art.   

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