When Fuji Bakery's Akihiro Nakamura speaks of "retirement", what he really means is opening a bakery, building that business from the ground up, expanding to a second location, developing new recipes, making coffee and -- let's not forget -- looking to expand to yet another location north of Seattle. Nakamura, known to regulars as "Aki" or "Aki-san," embarked on a journey after "retiring", of providing authentic, and wholesome breads and pastries that he would be comfortable giving his sons. What became of those efforts was a business Nakamura enjoys, but also one where perfection just barely eludes him.
SW: How would you define Japanese baking for those who aren't familiar with that style?
We don't have traditional Japanese baking. Baking came to Japan from Portugal first, and after we opened up the country, it started coming from everywhere. It was a kind of a chaos in Japan when everything came all at once. Of course, we love it, and we like to have the traditional influences from each country, and also to have our own flavors.
Perfection is something we Japanese usually go after. Also, the Japanese went to many countries to study true baking techniques. That's why we have the Italian breads, French breads, danishes from Denmark, and Russian style breads like piroshkis. People call us a Japanese-French bakery, but it's not. We call this a Japanese bakery, which is chaos.
How are your Japanese pastries distinctive from the rest?
It's more sensitive on the ingredients, and the ingredients create a harmony. Even if you use the best whipping cream, if you don't use the right ingredients, then it's not good. We use the best flour. The flour is very important. American flour doesn't work. It's very heavy. It's very important to use Japanese style flour. We use European style cultured butter. It's really hard to come by and very expensive, but we don't want to compromise the taste.
We want people to enjoy what to bake. The roll breads have a 30 hour shelf life, and that's the only one that goes over night. Everything else, either we consume or we dispose it. Even though we use the best ingredients, there are no second day ones. I either give extras to the customer, or we consume or dispose.
What's your favorite bread or pastry sold at Fuji?
What's your favorite bread or pastry sold at Fuji?
Everything. I cannot pick one. I like French bread. I like our danishes, and I like the croissants. Our croissants, a lot of French customers think we have the best one. They feel like they are home when they eat it.
You no longer serve cakes at Bellevue location. Is there a chance that you'll sell cakes again?
We had a pâtissier from France; he had to leave and so, that's the way it goes. We are planning to have a different location for a bigger kitchen. Bellevue's kitchen is too small for us, so we are planning to have a bigger room for a kitchen. We are most definitely planning to bring back the Japanese style cakes.
How do you develop your recipes?
From my experiments. In the U.S., the flour is different, the climate is different. We have a basic idea of what we want. You cannot just experiment with 1 quart, 2 quart or 5 quart mixers. You have to use the 6 quart mixer to make sure that everything is correct. Each gram counts. One experiment might have 275 grams of eggs, for example, and 46 of flour, and for sugar, I know how low it could be. I mix it, and try it, and didn't like it, so I had to shave some away -- or for example, from 253 grams to 248. It has to be very precise. It can't be one cup of this, and one cup of that. It has to be by each gram. I had made so many mistakes.
There is kind of a concept where we know what should go in, what flavors are good, and what combinations we can do. I think I have lots of room to improve, like with the curry pastry. Every day is an experiment for us. We just now switched to 100% Angus beef for the curry [pastry]. We tried using a new dough. Every day, we tried to improve. At the same time, we don't want the customer to get bored so we try to do seasonal fruits and seasonal vegetables.
For your new location, are you still looking in Wallingford and Ballard?
We're looking at several locations in the north side because we have one in Bellevue and one in the International District. So it makes more sense to go up north. We're still looking for it. We are going to have a retail location just like the International District, but with a big kitchen. We decided the Bellevue location is getting too small. Once we get a bigger kitchen, we like to bring back the cakes and make desserts. That's our plan.
We want the people to enjoy the food, and we are planning to make a few changes on the menu and in the kitchen. I'm not happy about it yet. I feel like I want to be better. After a few months, there might be some different things and the same breads might improve a little bit more. So come back and enjoy our food and enjoy our coffee. I'd love to improve more. We're not yet satisfied with what we have right now.