When Arinobu Fukuhara, the founder of Shiseido, traveled to New York in 1900 and brought back with him a soda fountain — the machine, the syrup, the glasses, even the straws — and set it up in the Shiseido Pharmacy in Ginza, little could he have imagined that he was establishing the company as the ultimate operator of chic eateries in Tokyo.
Today, Shiseido operates eight cafes and restaurants there, including a new rooftop restaurant in Harajuku overlooking the gardens of Meiji Shrine. The jewel in the crown is undoubtably L’Osier, the Michelin three-star French restaurant that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and has been overseen by chef Olivier Chaignon since 2013. (Faro, Shiseido’s Italian restaurant, earned one star.)
Housed in a building in central 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 du vivre,” said Chaignon, during an early morning interview in the restaurant’s private dining salon, which seats just 10 people and features Aubusson tapestries by Sonia Delaunay and Lalique sculptures. The primary dining room can accommodate 34 guests, who book as early as three months out. Prices start at about 14,000 yen for a three-course lunch and rise to 50,000 yen (about $370 at current exchange) for four courses and two desserts, plus an amuse-bouche, sweet trolley and coffee or tea.
“There are many similarities between food and beauty,” Chaignon continued. “Cosmetics are for the beauty of people. Cuisine should make people happy, and when you are happy, you are beautiful.”
Today, it’s just after 8:30 a.m. and L’Osier’s cadre of 44 chefs are busy preparing the myriad elements that will go into the lunch and dinner services. Chaignon changes the menu about every six to eight weeks, depending on the seasons, but certain dishes — like Wild Black Abalone from China Cooked in its Shell with Sea Urchin, Vegetables and Smoked Eel with Sancho Leaves, and Green Saboyan with Abalone Liver — are so popular they have become signatures. It is served on a Limoges plate that Chaignon designed. Ditto the rolling dessert trolley, laden with handmade chocolates, caramels, marshmallows, nougat and like, which Chaignon redesigned early in his tenure, adding more layers to make it easier for diners to see the full array, as well as adding drawers that perfectly align with the table’s edge when open.
As luxe as it is, Chaignon is equally as focused on sustainability. He works with researchers and organizations around the world on various projects, including a female-founded tea-growing cooperative in Sri Lanka; a university in Cambodia that upcycles rice cracker waste to ultimately enhance poultry’s egg-producing capabilities, and a French researcher who linked a lactic bacteria 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 formulated a special olive oil that is used (and sold) only at L’Osier from its fruit.
He is as intent on innovating in the area of gastronomy as his counterparts in R&D are in skin care, meaning that while his domain may be quite different from Shiseido’s core business, his mission isn’t. “The ultimate aim 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.”