Why are you here?
From other countries, to Kamiyama
People often remark that there are a lot of foreigners in Kamiyama, but where did they come from? What is it like for them to be living in this town?
David Gould from New York, USA
May 4, 2020 release
Dave (David Gould) visited Kamiyama from spring of 2018 until May of the following year as a Chef in Residence at the Kamiyama Food Hub Project. He's a wonderful chef. While experiencing a year of changing seasons in Kamiyama, he brought considerable change to the people of Kamiyama and to himself.
Kamiyama Food Hub Project
Established in 2016, this agriculture company in Kamiyama aims to pass on the rural mountainous region’s agriculture and food culture to the next generation through local farming and local dining. Their motto is “Farm Local, Eat Local.” There are approximately 20 people on staff.*1
Chef in Residence Program
Chefs come for temporary stays and through their expertise and food sense, and through interactions with local people they bring new perspective and value to things local people may have missed. This program was inspired by the Kamiyama Artist in Residence Program (started in 1999)*2 and was established with the Food Hub as its base in 2018.
The Difference between Success and Happiness
DaveI came from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve had a twelve-year career as a chef, and of that, eight or nine years were spent as the executive chef of a large restaurant kitchen. (Executive chef at popular Italian restaurant Roman’s*3)
But the last four or five years, I started to feel lost, like I lost my focus. I wasn’t getting the same inspiration from my work as I had before.
Inspiration is important.
DaveYes. My cooking is influenced by ingredients and materials, but also by place, culture, community. My style is that every day I cook what I feel. That’s a very important element to me.
I think the more comfortable you become in a situation, things become easy and you develop skills and strategies. But that does not necessarily mean that you are happy. That was when I started to think I wanted to uproot myself from New York and make a big change in my life.
What is “success” to a New York chef?
DaveIn general, I think it’s someone who keeps creating businesses, opening new restaurants, and becoming more of a creative leader. I think that’s what people consider a success there.
But I really like the craftsmanlike element of the process, working with my hands, touching, and tasting. But it’s hard to continue like that for a long time in a place like New York. There’s a lot of competition and everyone is always thinking about the next new thing.
It’s very consumerist. Now, what is “success” to you?
DaveHmm. That’s a good question. (laughs)
Do you even want to achieve “success”?
DaveIt’s easy to gauge success by how much money a business makes, or how profitable the business is, how many people come every day, but I think rarely does that mean that the people operating within that business are happy.
There’s an old coffee shop in front of Tokushima Station. Two women running the shop have probably been there for decades, making the same coffee every day, preparing the same morning toast, and serving it to customers. They seem very happy. But if you go to the Starbucks nearby and see all the people working there, ask yourself if the people working there are happy in the same way. I don’t think they are.
I was at Roman’s since the beginning, and it’s open 362 days a year. I had to fight very hard to find a balance, and that was very difficult for me.
Going outside your comfort zone
How did you get connected with Kamiyama?
DaveYes, well that was after I told my boss, Andrew Tarlow, that I was going to quit. We had a good relationship and we worked well together, so I needed to make the decision to tell him. I said, “I want to have different experiences with different people, in different places.”
At first, I thought I’d go to Italy. But Andrew introduced me to his friend Sam (who runs a popular restaurant in Oakland on the West Coast called Ramen Shop) who then suggested that I meet Taichi Manabe. I met Taichi when he came to New York in 2017, on Halloween night. October 31.
I hadn’t made plans, and I just wanted to go travel for a long time, but what I wanted most was to find one place to go and stay because I think it’s very important to have an experience inside a community and not just be a tourist. I thought it would be best to have a good way to share values, and have a creative outlet within an immediate community of people.
I spoke with Taichi for about three hours. About natural farming and growing and eating real food. The importance of food in society. I could tell he was very serious about this project. So the following year, in February, I set off for Kamiyama.
Since that February, you’ve been going between New York and here for a year and a few months. What have you done in Kamiyama?
DaveIt’s not so much a question of what I have done for this year, but how I have lived. I’ve been thinking about that on a deeper, more personal level.
When I first came, I wasn’t much different from how I felt in New York. I was very focused on coming and working, so I think that I put myself into the kitchen very quickly because that’s how I know how to live and survive. That’s how I make connections and friends. Some people come here and they see it from a big perspective and see different things happening. They want to meet people and learn things and have unique Japanese experiences, but I guess my way to do that is through work.
How was it, in the kitchen?
DaveThere’s an expression, “wherever you go, there you are.” And I think that’s what it was. Even though I uprooted myself and planted those roots in another country, I was still the same person. But over time, I changed a lot inside myself.
The biggest change was my desire to be in control of the situation. Before, I was aware of everything, but I didn’t really understand that it’s not really possible to control anything. But I’m learning that now. It’s like training for me.
I think that through controlling the situation in the kitchen, that was your way of taking responsibility for your work, but how do you take responsibility now?
DaveWhatever happens is just natural, and it’s not necessary to take responsibility for those things. I think for a long time, my response to the people working around me was immediate stress and anger like, “I don’t like what this person’s doing” and “I’m gonna change this” when things weren’t going how I thought they should.
But when I learned to think of all that stuff as natural and good, and accept that the situation could have positive effects, then everything can be positive. That’s how I feel now. I think the environment in Kamiyama gave me time and space to develop this way of approaching things.
Were there a lot of things that didn’t go your way?
DaveThere was a night in Onomichi, when we had a Food Hub Project-related seated dinner with 60 invited guests. (The Chef in Residence is a program where a visiting chef is provided with meals and a place to stay. They are not paid a wage for their work.)
When we were preparing, the whole process was full of setbacks. It just kept getting worse the closer we got to the starting time of the event, and I was very angry.
I didn’t feel like the food was good. Everything I was thinking was bad. My head was full of anger, and I felt like I had returned to those feelings that often took over me when I was in the kitchen in New York.
In the past it would take me two days or even a week or more to come out of those feelings. But this time it only took me an hour to get over it.
It made me realize how much energy I was wasting by holding on to anger, stress, and frustration. I had learned how much easier it was to just let go, and I found that I had learned how to let go of it more quickly.
I consider myself to be a thinker. I’m always processing things in my brain. For me to leave that comfort zone, naturally it was uncomfortable. But by taking that step, I was able to become a better person. Those experiences made me realize that’s why I came here.
The experiences I had during this year were all very spiritual, psychological experiences.
Even if you move outside your comfort zone, you learned how to feel safe, so that must be very freeing.
DaveI think it’s very important. I’ll go back to the United States soon, but I think more than anything, I’m excited that anything I do will be more positive. I’m hoping to see everything that I once saw with a different lens.
Sharing Thankfulness and Appreciation
In the text you wrote for the Food Hub Project you wrote, “For a long time I approached cooking and eating only with judgement, and now it is with warmth and appreciation.”*4
DaveIn the food industry, you’re always looking around at what everyone is doing, and you’re criticizing, measuring where you are, where they are. Especially in New York, where there are so many restaurants, there are so many people measuring, judging, and critiquing, analyzing. It’s like eating becomes a process of evaluating, and you forget the most important thing.
Eating to nourish yourself. Taking time in the day. Sharing a meal with friends or family. You choose to relax and eat without thinking about all those values, like you’re a caveman, eating like you are about to get attacked by wild animals.
Always on alert.
DaveYes. But in Kamiyama when I make food and talk with people, I feel a much more direct connection to thankfulness and appreciation. Feeling the love. Basking in the blessings. Like a warm sun is coming down on you and you can just relax. Not just at Kamaya, but other restaurants nearby, like when I eat at Kabacha (an okonomiyaki restaurant that a young person from Hiroshima opens once a week) I feel that more than I ever have before.
As a person and as a chef, I want to be able to provide that.
For my life, I think that’s very important. Sharing that sort of thing is the reason for making food in the first place, isn’t it? There are so many things you have to worry about if you want to be a professional, and you forget those feelings, and you forget why you’re even making food in the first place.
I think I was able to get back to that during my stay in Kamiyama.
How would you describe the Food Hub Project?
DaveIt’s a passionate team that makes certain financial sacrifices in order to create a range of value through ingredients made with natural methods and the meals that are created with them.
DaveBecause it’s hard to use natural ingredients in food in this world, and the Food Hub is continuing to do that. The cost of the ingredients goes up so the profit goes down and you have to take that into consideration. And because of that you have to be better at everything. Better towards the people growing the food. Better at marketing and better at cooking. You can’t keep on doing it unless you’re good at everything.
The Food Hub is trying to bring back farming and food, and working very hard at it. That’s why I admire it. If you search all over the world, I don’t think you could find many communities that are this committed. If I search for the same sort of environment when I go back to the States, I think I’ll find it someplace small.
When are you going back?
What will you be doing until then?
DaveI’ll be doing the final project for the residence. I want to make food together with the local older people in Kamiyama to learn their food culture, and make that all into a sort of journal. If possible I’d like that to continue with other residence chefs.
Also, I’d like to use my experience to establish more of a structure for the Chef in Residence. I think for members of the Food Hub and also for future chefs that come, I’d like to make it easier for good things to happen.
Thanks for trying to make some things that will last after you go.
DaveYou’re welcome. (laughs)
Now this final question is kind of odd, but are you a member of the Food Hub Project?
Dave! Yes. (laughs) It’s like a family to me.
The Chef in Residence program was started through Food Hub Project Taichi Manabe’s ideas and networks. I spoke to him about his thoughts on the program and on Dave’s stay.
Taichi, you weren’t born and raised here, were you?
TaichiI moved here as part of a family of four in 2014. I personally am from another town on Shikoku.
The Food Hub Project has several sides. There is an agriculture team, a restaurant, a food processing team, a bakery and small grocery store, and there is a food education team that is involved with the town’s daycares and schools. My title is Chief Operating Officer, and I do management, planning, and direction.
How many chefs have participated in the Chef in Residence program so far, including Dave?
TaichiIt started in January, 2018. The first was Mari Kawamoto who had just returned from Italy. Next was Danny Newberg from New York. The third was Dave. Now the fourth is a woman named Amanny who is here now. (At the time that this interview has gone live, there was also a woman named Katja Tausig from London who participated, bringing the total to five)
But there was another person named Amy who came to stay at another place in Kamiyama and got involved partway through, and there was Dave’s friend Mike (a pizza master from New York) as well as his former co-worker Ken, and we’ve gone together to do an event in Kagoshima. And a chef from California came. If you count all the unofficial participants, a lot of people have come and gone.
Now that the program has been going for a year and a half, what have you seen?
TaichiI think a pretty incredible situation is happening here. Talented chefs from overseas are skipping over Tokyo and Kyoto, and coming to Kamiyama, more and more. They sense value in what we are pursuing in our day-to-day lives in Kamiyama and I feel like that’s why they’re coming.
At first I felt a little pressure, and I felt like I had to make sure they had a fulfilling experience, or somehow lead the way, but surprisingly that wasn’t necessary. I just get them properly connected with daily life here, and that already has value enough. I came to understand that even more than before. We had a lot of discoveries on our side too.
How did Dave seem to you during his stay?
TaichiThere is a phrase, “lifetime experience” that comes to mind. He really is having an experience here that is changing his life.
There were good things and bad things side by side, so naturally we had fights or I guess you would call them discussions. With him, he got so attached to the Food Hub Project that he actually got very critical of it for a time. We went through a lot of twists and turns, and I saw Dave himself changing a lot in some ways.
What he was talking about just now about getting out of his comfort zone and becoming more free, I think that’s something he really gained from this situation, and that makes me really happy too. I’m glad I was able to be with him during that opportunity, and I think that is part of what is good about Kamiyama as well.
I think he was able to feel the way the community accepted him from that very first event that was held after he arrived from New York. People don’t just come because his food is something unusual or anything: the people, from children to seniors, people living here like Dave’s food and that’s why they come to eat it. It’s all the different people who live around here who bring their feelings and interests. That situation we have in Kamiyama, this has given me a sense of what a luxury it might be.
I’m very interested to see what he starts next. And whatever it may be, I’m hoping I can somehow be a part of it.
How did it feel to watch me ask Dave if he was a Food Hub member?
TaichiI felt really happy. (laughs) He answered “We’re family” right away, but I think everyone else feels the same way about him too. When both sides feel that way, that’s happiness, isn’t it? If possible, I’d like it if all the chefs who visit as part of the residence grow to feel the same way.
Then you’ll have a really big family.
TaichiI think that would be partly thanks to Dave. He’s constantly bringing chefs with him here, and they’re all really great people. I feel like our family really is growing to include even New York, and that makes me happy.
A message from everyone at NPO Green Valley and Kamiyama Tsunagu Corporation:
We're thinking of our friends around the world as COVID-19 affects us all. Let's stay in touch online until we can safely meet again.
Text: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Photography: Masataka Namazu
English Translation: Claire Tanaka
Production cooperation: Mie Manabe, Keiko Kudo, Aya Fujimoto
Planning and production: Kamiyama Tsunagu Corporation