Chef's Thoughts on Tokyo:
Tokyo, Paris, or Lyon? Finding Local French Cuisine in Japan's Capital

When Christophe Paucod moved from his traditional French hometown of Lyon to the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, it was not just his family that he brought with him, but also a love of Lyon's traditional cuisine. Sharing that passion with the world, he has now been running a successful Lyon-style restaurant for 16 years.
Eating sea urchin at the Toyosu market. The quality and diversity of cuisine available in Tokyo is a constant source of inspiration for him. Photo: courtesy of Christophe Paucod

A Little Lyon in Tokyo?

Born and raised in France's city of Lyon, Christophe Paucod started on his path to culinary success early on, picking up the spatula from the age of 15. He went on to work at various esteemed restaurants and hotels such as La Tour d'Argent and Le Bristol Paris, as well as Hotel Plaza Athenee. 

It was in 1998 that he faced a new challenge, as he moved to Tokyo after falling in love with the city during a holiday two years earlier. He began teaching at the prestigious French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo. 

He then went on to work at Sofitel Hotel Tokyo, but when it was bought out and redundancies were made, he faced another challenge regarding what to do next. He did not back down, but instead decided to open his very own restaurant. 

Paucod had very specific ideas of how he would bring Lyon-style ambience to his restaurant in Tokyo, saying: "I wanted a place that was one or two floors, easy for people to enter, and that had the right atmosphere." 

To do so, he decided he needed to find a location that reminded him of the French city. Luckily, Kagurazaka in Tokyo's Shinjuku City had just what he was looking for.

The bustling, cobblestone streets of Kagurazaka were one of the many draws for setting up shop there.

Kagurazaka is sometimes referred to as Tokyo's "Little Paris" for its French population and influence. Within that area, he found a nice spot with cobblestones and narrow streets that somehow reminded him of his hometown, with the perfect place for a restaurant that would not be tucked away in a high-rise building.

That was the birthplace of Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais, Paucod's restaurant that has now been going strong for 16 years and has been honored one star in the Michelin Guide for 13 consecutive years.

From the original Emille Galle art deco lighting to the landscapes of Lyon decorating the walls, the idea of bringing Lyon to Tokyo is something that comes through in every corner of the restaurant. Most of all in the food, through which Paucod likes to honor the flavors of his ingredients by keeping things simple. This is reflected in the restaurant's motto: "La cuisine lyonnaise n'a qu'un secret: 'Laisser aux choses, le gout de ce qu'elles sont'" (Lyon cuisine has but one secret: 'Leave things to taste as they are').

With this in mind, Paucod prepares each dish in a way that maintains the natural qualities and characteristics of every element, carefully selecting his produce and paying close attention to how each dish is seasoned. With its roots in traditional home-style cooking, Lyonnaise cuisine is known for its simplicity and quality. With the freshness and flavor of its produce, often fresh meat, poultry and vegetables, at the forefront, stews and braised sauces are prevalent. When cooked, the natural characteristics of each ingredient intensify over time, without the need for excessive seasoning.    

His home-made Lyon-style sausage is one of the dishes on his menu that he says best represents his hometown cuisine. Photo: courtesy of Christophe Paucod

Comfort, Crossover, and Community

Now that Paucod has been in Tokyo for over 25 years, there are a lot of things he has grown used to and come to appreciate about the city. "Even though there are so many people in Tokyo, I never feel stressed by this."

Recently, he had some international visitors at his restaurant who asked if it would be safe to go on a walk around the area after dark. Without hesitation, Paucod told them yes, as he feels particularly safe in this city: "In other parts of the world you have to be careful, but here there's no problem going for a walk in the evening after work." 

Aside from the safety, he also loves the quality of food that can be found, and likes to try all sorts of cuisines when he has the chance, from European food to washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine). In fact, the city's culinary diversity is a frequent source of inspiration for him. For the restaurant's 15th anniversary, friends in the industry celebrated with him, and he ended up making yakitori (charcoal-grilled chicken skewers) with one of his good chef friends from nearby. After that experience, he was inspired to use some of the same ingredients as accents in his own French dishes. 

The crossovers do not stop there, though. Paucod has been making French-style osechi ryori (New Year's cuisine) since 2004. This year, the New Year's celebratory meal involved items like duck terrine alongside Hokkaido abalone and slow-cooked beef.   

This kind of crossover and exchange of ideas is made especially easy by the community that he is an active part of. Being a member of the ACPFJ (Amicale des Cuisiniers et Patissiers Francais au Japon, or the Association of French Chefs and Pastry Chefs in Japan), which meets around six times annually, is just one of the ways he is able to stay connected with his French colleagues.

In fact, there are many French chefs and restaurants in Tokyo that he admires. With all this inspiration available, it is easy to see why Paucod has spent so many years in Tokyo and found continued success with Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais.

Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais
Interview and writing by Cassandra Lord
Photo by Cassandra Lord