The restaurant Français “LA VILLE FRANCHE” on Otesuji in Kochi City stands out on the sometimes garish street by its quiet charm. The front is soft yellow and welcomes you warmly. Opening the green door, a beautiful, solemn but friendly atmosphere spreads before your eyes.
Kazu and Shinichi Ogasawara are waiting with charming smiles. They might seem to be shy, but they are talkative actually. They make you feel comfortable during whole your time there with heart-warming hospitality. You can escape from the real life and feel like being in a traditional restaurant in France.
Thirty-eight years have passed since the restaurant opened in 1977. At first, they had a restaurant near Harimayabashi (in front of the old SEIBU department store ) by the name of ‘マリオ (Mario)’. After 10 years, they moved to the present location and changed the name. But even now, people affectionately still call the restaurant Mario.
In the early days, they used to be told that a specialized Western cuisine restaurant in Kochi was impossible. But Chef Ogasawara has always been his own man.
We always serve artisanal and tasty cuisine at a reasonable price…A dish has no meaning if it is not tasty and is not eaten.’-(LAVILLE FRANCHE)
…So thought Chef Ogasawara at the age of 21 when he was a university student. This idea had come to him after thinking deeply about how to live authentically. Such thinking and commitment has kept the restaurant thriving.
“I wanted to think for myself and act freely too!”
After a few years of running the original restaurant, he knew he needed more expertise, not so much in cooking, which he could learn from books, but in the art of running a real French restaurant.
“I hit a wall and I felt like running a restaurant meant nothing. So, my wife and I closed the old restaurant and started out on a journey of three months. We drove around France in our ‘Renault Super Cinq’ to learn not French dishes but how to run an authentic and meaningful restaurant.”
After coming back to Japan, he opened new restaurant which has remained until today. The experiences they gained on the trip are expressed in the new restaurant. French cuisine has continues to be his way of life, and even now, he keeps learning new things.
“Something strange happens when I cook,” says Ogasawara. “There are always new discoveries are lying close at hand.”
He remains fascinated by cooking French cuisine.
“Cooking French cuisine is interesting because we can construct the ‘taste’. Assembling ingredients is equal to constructing taste. Cooking is like an experimentation for me, and the interest of that is creating a theme of cooking. I aim at returning the good things to my customers.”
He feels happy that he can continue his restaurant, because it’s the only remaining genuine French restaurant. While there are a few other restaurants that serve French food, their emphasis is on alcohol, not cuisine. Viewed from this perspective, Ogasawara’s restaurant is the last one of its kind in Kochi city.
“Old things will just disappear,” he says with a sad smile. “Now we do not have rival French restaurant any more. Sometimes I feel like I am alone. But I think the new style is also good.”
Still, he is an energetic and passionate person and enjoys interaction with regular customers.
“They come here with their family. I am very pleased when I can meet with their children or even their grandchildren. To make deeper and wider connections is rewarding.”
“My ultimate goal is to continue French restaurant even when we will get older. I don’t care about the size. The number of customer might be fewer than now, but that’s fine. Only I dream to be with my wife in a restaurant which is just like an authentic one in France.”