‘I was an unknown’: head chef of Japan’s best restaurant Sézanne, Daniel Calvert

Daniel Calvert’s culinary journey was never born and finished with Hong Kong, but, like a good sandwich, the sandwich’s middle is essential.

“Hong Kong is a crowded and fast-paced city, and you can do everything. Asim (Syed Asim Hussain, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong hospitality group Black Sheep Restaurants) gave me my first chance. Hong Kong put me on the map,” says the executive chef at Tokyo’s two Michelin-starred Suzanne.

Calvert’s culinary career began in London, where he worked as a chef for Shane Osborn at Pied a Terre, resulting in a chef position at Per Se in New York, working alongside Chef and restaurant owner Thomas Keller.

Then he returned to Europe to work for Le Bristol Hotel in Paris in Paris, where he met James Henry, who ultimately shut down his establishment, Bones, to open the restaurant Belon together with Black Sheep Restaurants in 2016.

Inside Suzanne, The restaurant that Calvert has two Michelin-starred in Tokyo.

“I was James’ sous chef, and we moved over from Paris together,” Calvert states. “The initial agreement included James coming for six months to begin the restaurant and then returning periodically to inspect things.

“It was meant to be a temporary arrangement. I still had my home located in Paris in the meantime.”

Dining out or casual, French restaurants in Hong Kong are thriving and alive.

When the six-month mark was reached in September 2016, Calvert had fallen in love with Hong Kong and wanted to remain. “The owners of Belon gave me a great opportunity to take over from that point,” Calvert declares.

But Belon had a difficult time. Hong Kong has numerous fine dining and Michelin-starred eateries, and customers do not easily suffer sticker shocks. However, Belon was known for being expensive.

A few of the more frequently cited examples of this time is an appetizer comprised of three pieces of asparagus, with expertly placed bits of caviar, which cost the sum of HK$900 (US$115), and also the city’s highest-priced chicken wings (albeit filled with matsutake mushrooms along with foie gras) for 348 HK$.

You’ll be missing opportunities if you’re not doing the right thing at the right time.

Daniel Calvert

  “I think most nights we were doing less than 10 covers,” Calvert states. “Our menu was expensive however Elgin Street [in Hong Kong’s SoHo neighborhood in which the restaurant is situatedis a informal street, and I was a new chef. Why would anyone pay that much?”

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The problem needed to be solved, so Calvert chose the challenging path.

Instead of attempting to garner the attention of his fans with fancy relaunches and partnerships with famous chefs, He was determined to consistently produce excellent, well-executed meals, even though there were very few customers.

The inside of Belon as it stands today is situated on Elgin Street, in Hong Kong’s SoHo neighborhood. The Belon restaurant was once on the ground floor of a space on this same block. Photo: Black Sheep Restaurants

“I was there at seven o’clock in the morning through to midnight,” Calvert declares. “We baked bread each day, even when we weren’t. We were doing the same tasks every day, ensuring that the basics were followed because there was no way to know who would come in your door.

“We might not have been able to cover four times however, if you bring in someone with a knowledge of food. They’ll love it and they’ll then write a piece about your experience. If you’re not taking the proper steps at the right moment, you’ll miss these opportunities.”

The perseverance paid off as Calvert received the restaurant’s initial Michelin star in 2017. Shortly after, he was offered the chance to create his restaurant in the Four Seasons Tokyo Marunouchi in Tokyo, the Japanese capital.

“I fell in love with how The XO sauce of Hong Kong influenced a Michelin restaurant.

After leaving Belon in the summer of 2020, Suzanne relocated to Tokyo to begin his next chapter. It took until July 2021 before Sezanne could open.

Calvert received his initial Michelin rating for his establishment less than six months after the restaurant’s opening and another the following year.

The awards kept coming in, and in March 2023, Suzanne was named second in the rankings and voted as the best restaurant in Japan according to Asia’s Top 50 Dining List, in addition to being ranked 37 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list a few months afterward.

A fish dish is featured in Calvert’s menu, which is limited in time at Aji located in MGM Cotai, Macau, until September 18. Photo: Aji

Calvert visited Macau over three days to kick off a cross-cultural occasion at Aji, a Japanese restaurant in Macau’s MGM Cotai hotel that will be open from September 18 until.

The menu highlights the ingredients Calvert discovered while traveling across Japan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I spent a lot of time in Kanazawa [a city on the Sea of Japan coast] to explore the seafood there,” Calvert states. “[Nearbyto] Toyama is famous for its white shrimp. I also visited other prefectures such as Wakayama and Hokkaido too. It was amazing.”

I’m not the most talented chef on the planet. However, I do better than the majority of people.

Daniel Calvert

The menu includes elements like corn from Yamanashi, Saffron from Oita, and mangoes from Miyazaki.

In the dish of Beluga caviar, which includes avocado and sudachi limes, Calvert displays next-level skills comparable to sushi chefs, including the avocado cut expertly thin.

Calvert’s skill with the knife can also be seen during the dessert course of Miyazaki mango and shortbread cream Chantilly that is served with it is the layer on top of a half mango is cut off, the filling put into the cavity of the fruit, and then the top layer is put back on.

Calvert’s Beluga caviar with avocado and sudachi dish. 

The product is entirely seamless. It appears as if the piece of fruit has never been damaged.

It is also the responsibility of a humble chef to exhibit the restraint required when working with unusual ingredients that demand one to put one’s ego aside and let the elements play the lead role.

Calvert delivered large, hefty Murasaki sea urchins that came from Japan. Instead of making them into a delicious recipe, the chef served them on a homemade rice cracker.


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