You will love Tokyo’s hottest health food spot
Fresh local produce is chef Melissa King's driving philosophy at the ELLE Café Aoyama
American chef Melissa King graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and trained under several Michelin-star and James Beard-recognised chefs, including Dominique Crenn, Craig Stoll and Ron Siegel. She also became a hot favourite as a finalist on season 12 of the hit TV series Top Chef. A few years ago, she founded Co+Lab, an experimental pop-up dinner series that became wildly popular. Today, this exciting young chef, with her hyper-local cooking style is helming ELLE Café Aoyama in Tokyo, which takes its food capital-status seriously.
ELLE: Tell us about the concept behind ELLE Café Aoyama?
Melissa King: To find a way to connect health and beauty. I wanted to create food that makes you feel good from the inside out. At ELLE Café Aoyama, I’ve designed a California-inspired menu for their second floor fine-dining restaurant where we make an effort to source fresh, organic produce from local Japanese farms. The menu is colourful and vegetable-focused, with minimal use of gluten and dairy.
ELLE: How did the association happen?
MK: ELLE was looking for a chef that could design a healthy yet delicious menu that would fit its brand identity. I had just completed a project with several associates from Japan and they connected me to ELLE. We got to know each other’s values and goals, which resulted in the association.
ELLE: You place a lot of emphasis on fresh produce. Is there any unique element or ingredient in the menu?
MK: The interest in organic products amongst consumers is beginning to rise. However, access to it is rather limited due to the small number of farms in Japan producing their vegetables with these techniques. The Japanese are also beginning to learn more about the benefits of kale and other super foods. I have developed an organic kale wrap that is made with a vegetable or grain from every colour of the rainbow. It includes avocado, roasted beets, kabocha pumpkin, watermelon radish, cucumber, carrots, lentils, quinoa, cashew cream, hummus, and fresh sprouts all wrapped in an organic kale leaf.
ELLE: How have you incorporated fashion with food?
MK: Just like fashion, food is an artistic expression. I want my creations to be playful, colourful and visually balanced, while representing the future of food. I try to create dishes with multiple textures and layers while balancing freshness and seasonality.
ELLE: What is it like working with food in Japan versus the US?
MK: It’s a bit challenging when it comes to sourcing organic ingredients. In California, we have access to organic products everywhere—and at a reasonable price. Organic ingredients are rather pricy and limited in Japan. However, one thing that’s great about Japan is the incredible variety of ingredients. In the US, we have very little access to high-quality Japanese ingredients like miso, soy sauce, nori and bonito flakes. But in Japan, there are hundreds of types of miso to choose from, each with their own unique flavour. I went to a farmer’s market and there must have been at least 15 different citrus varieties at one stand, so it’s incredibly inspiring.
ELLE: What’s next for you?
MK: I’m currently the first chef ambassador for Whole Foods Market, so I will be continuing my work with them by bringing fresh, creative concepts to our markets. I’d also like to start a restaurant of my own and launch a cookbook.