Sada, as he used to be called by one’s peers, is something of a pioneer. His novel concept of marrying typically Japanese flavours and design to traditional French pastry has won the flavour of “le tout Paris”.
Having decided to go to cookery school in Tokyo in the 1980s, Sada spent several years as an apprentice at Chandon- a prestigious Tokyo patisserie.
“ As soon as I started, I was hooked on the sweets,” he says.
Aoki’s experience at Chandon provided an invaluable taste of what was to come. “Up to that point in my life, when I entered Chandon, everything I tried I did successfully, he says. “But pastry was different. At first, I could do nothing right. And to make matters worse, there were so many good chefs at Chandon and they would tell me everyday that I was not suitable to become a patissier. But I knew I was. And their criticism just inspired me more”.
Aoki’s journey from apprentice patissier in Tokyo to Parisian culinary celebrity may seem like a fairy tale. In fact, his success is the result of 15 years of hard work, perseverance and dedication.
When he decided to master the French art of patisserie, there was just one thing left to do –move to Paris. In 1989, the 21-year-old arrived in the capital. It was the first time he’d left Japan. He spoke very little French.
Aoki set about training, but things were slow to materialize. It took six months to land his first job, and was starting from scratch, as he had to learn from the basics. Aoki persevered. His skills improved. His talents were recognized. His obsession with pastry grew. He spent every waking moment thinking about pastry – working on it, analysing it. After brief stints in Italy, Switzerland and United States, he returned to Paris. He continued his “pastry experiments”, working in patisseries during the day and bartending at night.
Finally, when he was satisfied with his product, he sent samples to restaurants and caterers. From that day, Aoki’s pastry career shifted into high gear. It wasn’t long before he set up his own wholesale business. His first boutique in the rue de Vaugirard, in Paris’ Left Bank, would come shortly after, in 2001.
There are currently five Sadaharu AOKI boutiques in the world – three in Paris and two in Tokyo. Aoki is in Japan at least once a month. Another Tokyo shop is scheduled to open next year.