One of the brand values of PIZZA 4P’S is “Authentic”. It is a spirit not to imitate and view things superficially, but to ask ourselves “what is being authentic?”, think deeply and continue to gain detailed insights to execute a project. Today, we’re featuring a cheese meister of Pizza4P’s, Keinosuke Konuki in the second round of the series “Attitude of Authentic” where we interview those who have such spirit above.
Keinosuke Konuki (Kei) has dealt with producing fresh cheese such as Burrata cheese, which is a Pizza4p’s signature product, since the foundation. Although Burrata cheese is now the company’s leading product, he experienced a lot of difficulties trying to make quality cheese 10 years ago when the restaurant opened. We’ll dig into his story in which he has taken a process of trial and error step by step and accumulated improvements to create the popular cheese.
Pizza 4P’s: What makes you become a cheese meister?
Kei: I’d always been interested in Vietnam and came here to study Vietnamese. During that time, I got really interested in a Japanese who lived in Vietnam and wrote unique blogs. His approach was fresh and innovative by writing about a process to open his restaurant or about a pizza conceived by his customer was served in his restaurant. Actually, the person was Mr. Masuko, the current representative of Pizza4P’s. By a strange coincidence, he asked me to join him to make cheese. As I’d studied processed agricultural products in a university in Vietnam, I decided to give it a try.
Pizza 4P’s: How did you learn how to make cheese?
Kei: At first, I started it by searching through the Internet, reading books and watching other people do. As nobody created fresh cheese in Vietnam 10 years ago, I didn’t have any information on that. So, I couldn’t make it well. Cheese didn’t solidify and stretch either. Or, it became a rocky mozzarella. I couldn’t make something that could be served in a restaurant. I didn’t have a factory either at that time, I tried to make ideal cheese through trial and error every day at a corner of the restaurant’s kitchen.
It took a half year managing to make Mozzarella, but I experienced difficulties in making Camembert which needed maturing. I repeated a process of writing daily journals, taking photos and changing the method. In the end, I went to a famous cheese maker in Hokkaido, Japan to deepen my learning.
Pizza 4P’s: Why did you start producing cheese in Dalat?
Kei: Technique is, of course, important to make cheese, but quality of milk is as crucial as it. At the beginning, I bought milk from a farm in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh, but kept searching for a better one and found that milk in Dalat was excellent. Dalat is located in a mountain area and cooler than Ho Chi Minh so that it can create quality milk in a comfortable environment for cows. So, I took a plunge and moved the stranglehold to Dalat. However, farms didn’t distribute milk so easily. I was refused because it was difficult for them to supply milk not to a milk company, but directly to a small restaurant. It was only natural because I didn’t have any contacts and confidence there. However, I never gave up and visited some farms to build relationships gradually. Somehow, my passion went to a farmer’s heart and the farmer distributed milk to my restaurant.
Pizza 4P’s: What’s the point of the deliciousness of the Pizza 4P’s cheese?
Kei: I think, mainly, it’s locally produced and fresh. Basically, cheese is imported into Vietnam, and it’s quite hard to obtain fresh cheese, especially 10 years ago when we started to make cheese. So, I think the strongest point is that the ingredients are produced in Vietnam so that people can eat cheese fresh.
One more thing is that we have an opportunity to have customers eat cheese directly in our restaurants. Therefore, we are able to get various feedbacks to make improvements. Also, this line of business is less crowded here, so we may be a pioneer if we take an initiative and take action.
Pizza 4P’s: There are many manual processes. Is that also a secret of deliciousness?
Kei: As we are able to confirm things in detail if many manual processes are taken, we are able to create more delicate products. However, manual labor is not necessarily excellent. For example, when we think about environmental problems, mechanization would be better considering energy effects. So, it cannot be judged unconditionally. It is important to establish a production system, not by introducing machines just to have better effects, but having diversified views of at which part we should use manual labor to maintain quality and how we can produce things with less environmental burden.
Pizza 4P’s: Could you tell me a secret to maintain quality?
Kei: If we are at a cheese factory, it’s hard to see a customer’s face. If we know what kind of customers eat cheese how and are proud of being the origin of such a story, taste of cheese may improve. Fortunately, we have a lot of establishments and appreciate opportunities to actively take my team to one of our restaurants, show them how customers enjoy eating and interact with customers in events such as a workshop to make cheese.
Pizza 4P’s: What is an authentic approach for you?
Kei: It is important to give it a try constantly, without being stuck in the stereotypes. There are traditional ways to make cheese, of course, and France and Italy take the lead in the scene. We make cheese in Vietnam and cannot acquire information easily like in Europe. All we can do is trial and error. It takes time and effort. However, while we take the process of time and error, our originality will be generated. Our current producing process may be wrong. But if we continue to trust our taste ourselves and create products without compromise, the belief will create our characterization, gain evaluation and sympathy. I believe it will lead to our strength and create something authentic.
Pizza 4P’s: Tell me about your future plan.
Kei: As we started to produce cream cheese, we’re thinking about making our own cheesecakes and tarts. In the future, I want to make matured-type blue cheese as well. We’ve also focused on environmental problems from dairy farming and started to research on vegan cheese. We will aggressively challenge something unprecedented as usual. We’re also planning to construct a new factory where a guest sees a process of making cheese and enjoys workshops and others. As Pizza4P’s focuses on providing Edutainment (education), I want to have an approach to provide them with fun learning. Please look forward to the innovation of Pizza4P’s cheese in the future. I’m sure you can meet unique and original cheese.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Keinosuke Konuki – full of craftsmanship. Overwhelming efforts and step-by-step accumulation will be crucial to realize the creation of originative products based on their own senses. A spirit doesn’t dwell in a sense of non-professional, which doesn’t create something authentic. Pizza4P’s cheese are full of stories of the research done over the decade. When you have a chance to eat cheese, just imagine Dalat’s cows, Mr. Keinosuke Konuki and Staff of the cheese factory. This will make the taste of cheese more profound, which creates a new thrill!