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TOKYO — Nicolas Consijiney is a French chef from Dijon, who mixes regional cuisines from around the world to create new dishes for Wellingtons, the fine dining restaurant at Tokyo’s New Sanno Hotel.

The restaurant is so popular, monthly events are fully booked for the next six months.

At Yongsan Garrison’s Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, executive chef Tim Mitchell believes every customer deserves the absolute best.

“The hardest part of the job is also the best,” he said. “We take care of close to 3,000 customers a day, and each one has his own desires and expectations.”

Wolfgang Geckeler, executive chef for the Marine Corps clubs on Okinawa, believes food should be fine and fun, but always reliable. Great chefs, he says, are consistent and keep people coming back.

Across the Pacific, chefs with a wide range of backgrounds bring fine foods to servicemembers on bases and at Defense Department hotels.

For special events or a morale break, servicemembers visit these restaurants for a fine dining experience. They expect the best, and Pacific-area chefs say they make it their duty to provide the best.

The chefs have a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds — almost a United Nations of cuisine.

Consijiney is French; Geckeler is German.

Lucas Navajas, soon to be executive chef at Kadena’s Officers’ Club, is Spanish.

At Eda’s restaurant at Camp Zama and the Tama Hill Lodge near Yokota Air Base, the chefs are Japanese, but both have worked at French restaurants.

Some Pacific base chefs were trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Others learned as they went, working at restaurants across Europe, Japan and the United States.

They all agree that quality is foremost in their profession, along with creating dishes to please every customer.

“You have to be satisfied enough with the end product to serve it to a customer because it’s got your name on it,” said David Merlino, assistant manager of Misawa’s Officers and Enlisted clubs.

Many of the chefs enjoy mixing the best of European dishes or American staples with the pungencies of Asia.

“I’m fascinated with Japanese and Chinese foods; they have so much to offer with variety,” Geckeler said. “I’m very versatile and enjoy preparing food in Japan. I love the ingredients, the smell and tasting Japanese cuisine.”

Charles Kitzko, executive chef at Club Iwakuni at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, said being in Asia has helped him develop his talents.

“Here at MCAS Iwakuni, I have a great opportunity to learn from people who are from different backgrounds. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

As for cooking for American palates, most chefs said servicemembers and their families generally demand quality with affordability. They also like stronger flavors than Japanese eaters. “The flavor needs to have an impact,” said Tsutomu Eda, chef of Eda’s.

Chef Tadashi Ito at the Tama Lodge agreed.

“One difference when cooking for Americans is that the taste needs to be distinct,” he said. “If it is salty, it has to be salty. It can’t be vague.”

He said he tries to think about the customers first. “It only matters when customers are happy.”

Ito added that understanding the American palate can be challenging. He asks American coworkers to do taste tests.

Charles F. Yost, executive chef of the Harbor View Club at Sasebo Naval Base, said one of the hardest parts of his job is keeping a diverse group happy all the time.

To land their jobs, many of the top chefs were hired by base, club or restaurant officials after an interview. At Iwakuni, Kitzko faced a tougher process.

A pool of candidates for a position is whittled down and the top two candidates are flown to Iwakuni for a personal interview and a kitchen test.

For the test, they develop and create a menu in four hours in an unfamiliar kitchen with the ingredients present — like an Iron Chef competition. It’s tested and rated by a panel. The best chef gets the job.

Many of the chefs also said detail is essential for their jobs, and on Valentine’s Day — one of the most special holidays to cook for — color, style, presentation and detail are vital.

“The colors and arrangement of the food served are part of the flavor,” Ito said.

Kitzko, from Iwakuni, agreed.

Presentation, he said, can make a meal extraordinary — good enough, even, for Valentine’s Day.

— Hana Kusumoto, Greg Tyler, Jennifer Svan, Nancy Montgomery, Joseph Giordono, Fred Zimmerman and Mark Rankin contributed to this report.


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