A Conversation with Chotto

A Conversation with Chotto

By Roxanne, Per Capita Co-Founder

As the world languidly inches towards the next phase in our response to the pandemic and as countries begin a gradual easing of lockdown measures, the only thing that seems certain in these times is that life as we know it looks set to be affected for years to come.

The news has taken on a surreal quality as we hit new grim milestones each day. In the last week, our hearts ached as we read Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s message to his employees about the company having to cut 25% of its global workforce; and we struggled to comprehend the magnitude and reality of the pandemic as reports emerged of the total number of positive cases worldwide reaching a staggering 4 million.

Amidst the fray, one of the images that stood out to me was that of the public protests in Jerusalem. In their desire to have their voices heard, thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv’s central square in perfectly mapped out 2 metre grids, in complete compliance with social distancing rules, to express their rage over the continued rule of a Prime Minister charged with serious crimes. The demonstrations, and the stunning aerial photos that arose out of them stands for me, as a symbol of the capacity we have for adaptability and our aptitude to rapidly acclimatize to a new normal.

SoulCycle’s launch of its new at-home bike that streams on-demand classes, LVMH’s decisive pivot to utilize its manufacturing line, filling machines, plastic bottles and pump dispensers normally used for Dior, Givenchy and Guerlain liquid soaps to meet France’s call for hand sanitizer in 72 hours, and Lady Gaga’s One World: Together At Home virtual concert that brought musicians together to put up a six hour long online concert as a “love letter to all of you all over the world”; has further filled me with confidence in humanity’s ability to decisively recalibrate and respond to challenges the pandemic has brought on in gracious and innovative ways.

Closer to home, our friends at Chotto, one of Melbourne’s most loved authentic Japanese offerings has teamed up with Minamishima, an intimate fine dining Japanese restaurant to bring Melburnians a special ‘at home’ menu during the lockdown period that melds the magnetic comforting personality of Chotto with the technicality and precision of Minamishima.

This week, we spoke to Caryn Liew, one half of the duo behind Chotto about how adaptation is a constant process and how our new normal presents opportunities for businesses to reimagine their offerings as they are disrupted out of their habits. Caryn also spoke to us about her take on the future of dining out, the magic of dining in a restaurant, and omotenashi, the philosophy behind Japanese hospitality and the reason we’re impatient for the opportunity to dine with Chotto again. 

How has Covid19 changed your business?
Chotto was always intended as a temporary venture, but the fluidity of the name [Japanese for a short time only] allowed us to flit in and out of pop-ups (such as the ones we've done at Supernormal Canteen) since our closure. Brendan became part of Minamishima after chotto, and when the lockdown came into effect, we were asked by Minamishima if we wanted to bring back chotto for an 'at home' collaboration. In this regard, we have been incredibly fortunate, and have been able to work with Minamishima to tailor our business towards an 'at home' menu of familiar and comforting dishes.

How have you adapted to this season both as a business and in your personal routines?
It is a constant process of adaptation! We are glad that we have this project to focus our energy on, and it has given us a sense of purpose and something to look forward to. Being able to re-connect with our guests has also brought us much happiness, as omotenashi [hospitality] has always been the essence of what we do. On the personal side, this season has given me the time to do the things that have been cast aside in the busyness of life - whisking matcha, read, get up a little later than usual, enjoy the sunshine, play the piano and have a proper stretch. For Brendan who was last in Copenhagen, this has been a time to experiment with Danish pastries and brød.

Above: Chirashizushi from Chotto x Minamishima’s ‘At Home’ menu, inspired by the chefs’ recollections of fireworks at Japanese summer festivals.

How will this time and the changes it has brought on inform your future business strategies?
One lesson we have taken from this has been the ability to be fluid and adapt. We don't think we are unique in this aspect. Restaurants here and abroad have found themselves plunged into a situation where they have had to rethink what they offer and how they operate. 

How do you think this season will change consumer behaviour with regards to food consumption?
There is a magic about dining in a restaurant that a home environment and takeaway cannot replicate. A restaurant is the confluence of many parts - scent, sound, sight, taste, touch. It is the service, the atmosphere, the theatre, the taste of dishes - assembled just moments before by the chefs. It is the pleasure of your date or the company of your friends. And each restaurant is distinctive and has a feel, a soul. 

We - like many others - miss the freedom of being able to wander to a bakery or restaurant for lunch or dinner. To be able to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy a good meal while being taken care of. And to be fortunate enough - as we are in Melbourne - to sample the cuisines of so many cultures. We hope there will always be a place for restaurants, whether fine dining or casual, and that the hospitality industry, ever brave and ever resilient, will find it in them to rebuild after this, glass by glass and dish by dish. 

Chotto is a Melbourne-based Japanese offering founded by Brendan and Caryn Liew. Check out their collaboration with Minamishima here: minamishima x chotto


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