7 April 2023 · Mazda Stories
A CULINARY JOURNEY TO JAPAN WITH BEN SHEWRY
Professional chefs have what they call Teflon hands, from years of hot-pan handling, and, in the case of Ben Shewry, seemingly bottomless iron guts as well - defying his svelte exterior, the cooking genius behind award-winning restaurant Attica is a taste-seeking missile and never seems to stop eating. But the world’s deadliest meal did at last cause him to pump the brakes, if not his stomach.
We joined Shewry, a Mazda ambassador with a passion for the brand only a few mouthfuls behind his love of foodie experiences, for a few days in Hiroshima - the home of Mazda - as he sought to discover more about the partnership he’s involved in, and to drive the sinuous new CX-60.
At every possible occasion, when we weren’t driving or picking the sizeable brains of designers and engineers, Shewry was seeking out all varieties of Japanese food, including, on our last evening, fugu - the puffer fish that can kill a man dead if not prepared properly.
The top-notch, timber-shining restaurant we were eating at, Mitakiso - which dates back to 1946, a particularly difficult time in Hiroshima, yet looks and feels like a Japanese palace - takes a particular pride in its fugu dishes and served it to us three different ways, the last of which was “fugu milt”.
Now, Shewry is something of a Hawking-level food scientist, so when he warned us that milt was “extreme” and “full on” and posited his theory that it had something to do with intestines, we should, perhaps, have been more cautious.
When even Shewry himself struggled to get through a full mouthful of it without making a face of bilious pessimism, that should have been warning enough, but inspired by a few days with a man who makes you realise, or recall, that food is supposed to be an adventure, a joy, a journey of discovery and delectability, I threw the fugu milt in my mouth, and suffered the consequences.
It was cold, it was deeply disturbing in some indefinable way, and none of us finished it. Mercifully, it was only the next day that I discovered the true meaning of milt - “the sperm filled reproductive gland of a male fish”.
Fortunately, the rest of the meal was wonderful, as were all the other hands-on foodie experiences Shrewry led us through, from learning to make our own sushi (he was immediately brilliant at it, I dropped my first rice ball on the floor) to constructing, frying and eating our own Hiroshima specialty, okonomiyaki - a multi-level pancake of extreme deliciousness - were unforgettable.
What sticks in the mind even more than the taste sensations of Japan, however, was Shewry’s sense of simpatico with a car brand he has formed an enduring bond with, and in particular the designer of the Mazda CX-60, Akira Tamatani.
You quickly get the sense that Shewry is not a man who does things by halves, or even gives them 110 percent, as that would barely be enough for him. He recently spent eight months perfecting a single new dish, a reinvented, inverted lasagne, for his renowned restaurant, Attica - researching, constructing, tasting, perfecting - and it’s quite clear that he applied the same kind of deep diligence to the choice to align his highly valued personal brand with Mazda.
“At one of our first events together, I spoke about how I think design, great design, whether it’s food or cars, or furniture, can greatly improve the lives of humans, and Tamatani san, the chief designer of the CX-60, came to me tell me how much that resonated with him, and we’ve been firm friends ever since, I so much admire what he does,” Shewry recalls.
“Sitting next to him at that first meeting was the Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer, Yasuhiro Aoyama, and he was there when Tamatani asked me, ‘how do you know when a new dish is finally ready?’ I told him that I just knew, I could feel it, it’s intrinsic for me.
“And so I asked him, ‘when do you know when a car design is ready, when it’s finished, do you do market research?’
“And Aoyama-san, stopped me and he said ‘No! No market research at Mazda, no need, we know, like you! We know in here!’ And he thumped his fist into his chest, over his heart. And at that point I knew that I’d made the right choice, that Mazda was a company that aligned with my values, with the way I work.”
Shewry’s friend Tamatani gave us an exclusive walk around of the stunning new CX-60, his master work, and explained that it is meant to be a living example of the Japanese idea of premium design, and the defining aesthetic of minimalism.
“It’s the idea that less is more, taking out anything extra, leaving only what is absolutely necessary,” Tamatani explained.
Shewry is enthusiastically onboard with that way of thinking, describing it as “a beautiful philosophy” and one that he applies to his own work very deeply, yet he also warns that simplicity is a lot harder than it looks.
“There’s much, much less margin for area with that Japanese approach of simplicity, of taking things away rather than adding them, and If you get that wrong, it doesn’t work,” he says. “It’s a very, very fine balance and I definitely see that with Akira’s design of the CX-60.
“It’s much more difficult for something to be simple, something complicated is easier because you’re layering things and adding details and it seems more impressive, but to remove elements, to make a design simpler, is a lot more difficult and it comes from a much more confident place, in food, or in cars or in anything, actually.
“At Attica, we have this artwork that hangs in the kitchen, a photo of this young boy and his mother, looking at an abstract painting that seems very simple, and the boy says ‘I could have painted that,’ and the mother says: ‘But you didn’t.’
“That sums up for me how hard it is to do something simple, it seems so obvious when you see it, but it’s that slight, unobserved thing, the turning of the stone.
“When I was younger I wanted things to be more complicated, I thought that was more impressive, but as I got older I became more confident, and I started to pursue a style of cooking that was much more simplistic, much more focused on the beauty of the raw materials, and not overworking things.”
Shewry’s approach, which sees him apply enormous mental and physical effort to getting the simple things right (with the lasagne that took him months to perfect he says he eventually reached a state of ‘palate fatigue’ from tasting it over and over again) is certainly working.
Attica has been on the list of the world’s Best 100 Restaurants since 2010 and has been awarded two Michelin Stars.
Shewry knows there’s more to the success of his business than just the food, as he explained to us as he drove us across Japan in the Mazda CX-60.
“Great design is one of the most human ways of improving life, and as I’m sitting in the cockpit I’m blown away by how comfortable it is and how great it’s making me feel,” he said. "And that’s one of the things we work on at Attica, I guess you’d call it the psychology of the environment, how the touch points, the surfaces, the materials, impact the psychology of the guest.
“That’s really resonating with me as we drive this car, the surfaces, the driving position, it just feels like premium quality and very, very thoughtful.”