The distinction given to the Philippines’ Margarita Forés in 2016 will be granted this March to the Japanese chef Natsuko Shoji of Été in Tokyo. Shoji is the 2022 recipient of the Asia’s Best Female Chef Award which is voted for by the 300-plus members of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy.
“Natsuko Shoji’s elegant dishes reveal her perfectionism, attention to detail and creative vision, making her a worthy recipient of the Asia’s Best Female Chef Award,” says William Drew, Director of Content for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. “With her appreciation for seasonality, coupled with her brilliant aptitude for blending fashion and gastronomy, the chef’s creations embody the artistry of Japanese cuisine.”
Shoji’s interest in the culinary arts began in her teen years after making cream puffs for a high school assignment. After graduation, Shoji began her career at Florilège, the progressive French-inspired Tokyo restaurant that has been a high-flier on recent Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants lists.
Learning alongside Florilège’s chef and owner Hiroyasu Kawate, Shoji was promoted to sous chef within three years. In 2014, Shoji opened Été (meaning ‘summer’ in French), a modest tart shop in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighbourhood. The cake shop earned near-immediate global attention and a year later she transformed the space into a four-seat, invitation-only restaurant, further raising her profile in Tokyo’s competitive dining scene.
Drawing inspiration from iconic fashion houses and designer handbags, Chef Shoji developed a line of signature cakes, including her sought-after strawberry cake that takes its cues from Louis Vuitton’s Damier print, or the peach cake that evokes the distinctive stitching on Chanel’s Matelassé bags. With a deep appreciation for seasonality, each cake contains Japan’s prized fruit (Yuki Usagi strawberries from Saga, red Sakura Momo strawberries from Tokushima, or white Shimizu Hakutou peaches from Okayama) and is presented in a black box designed to resemble a jewellery box.
Été has earned acclaim from both celebrities (among them David Beckham) and renowned chefs, including René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià. Shoji’s status as one of the culinary world’s emerging stars was confirmed when she was named the 2020 recipient of the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef Award.
In December 2019, Été expanded to a six-seat restaurant, allowing Shoji to welcome diners into her exclusive eatery and personally serve her guests. Intimate and indulgent, Shoji’s intricately crafted 10-course menu demonstrates her meticulous approach, respect for ingredients and creative execution. Été’s signature dishes include a salted tart topped with Hokkaido sea urchin and mimolette cheese, delicate tilefish paired with a white asparagus soup and complemented with kegani crab meat, as well as Akagyu beef with a truffle sauce and bone broth jus.
Shoji says she’s deeply grateful for the Best Female Chef distinction and is grateful to the people who have shown her support. “I hope to be a role model to other female chefs in Japan and trust this award will motivate them to follow their passions,” she says. “I would also like to honour the other chefs who have mentored me throughout my career and inspired me with their craftsmanship and artistry.”
The Best Female Chef award is given to chefs whose dedication, skills and creativity set new standards in gastronomic excellence. Shoji will be honoured as part of the 10th annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards on March 29. The ceremonies will be broadcast globally via the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Previous recipients of the award, apart from Forés, include Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava from Thailand (2013); Lanshu Chen from Taiwan (2014); Hong Kong’s Vicky Lau (2015); May Chow from Hong Kong (2017); Bongkoch ‘Bee’ Satongun (2018) and Garima Arora (2019), both based in Thailand; Korean chef Cho Hee-sook (2020) and Shanghai-based DeAille Tam (2021).