A Conversation with The Bread Whisperer: Chef Yukichi Matsubara of B-Lab

We recently had the opportunity to interview Chef Yukichi Matsubara (Chef U), a master in breadmaking with over 30 years of experience.

During our interview, Chef U enthusiastically shared his passion for breadmaking, his journey to become a renowned bread master, and some helpful tips on how to make Japanese milk bread, also known as Nama Shokupan, which has taken the world by storm.

We were so incredibly impressed by Chef U’s knowledge and passion for breadmaking. He is a true master of his craft, and we are very excited to share his insights with you.

Chef Yukichi Matsubara’s Rise to Bread Fame

Chef U who hails from Kobe, Japan started his career in Tokyo at a bakery called Ginza Kimuraya. After eight years of honing his craft, he moved to France to further his training at Boulangerie Au 140, a famous bakery in Paris. He later returned to Japan to take charge at Boulangerie Patisserie MADU as Boulangerie Chef where he created some of the most delicious breads in Japan.

Chef U's passion for breadmaking is evident in everything he does. He is constantly experimenting with new flavours and techniques. It is no surprise that Chef U won a gold medal in the California Raisin Culinary Challenge in Las Vegas in 2004.

He topped 260 other participants with his impressive raisin bread creation, which we are sure left a lasting impression on anyone who has the pleasure of tasting it.

In addition to being a great chef, Chef U is also the author of the book, "Latest Style of Boulander Desserts: Unity of Breads and Desserts" which he published in 2005. Talk about an all-rounder!

If you’d like to try his signature bread recipe that led him to win the gold medal in the California Raisin Culinary Challenge, you’d need to get yourself a copy of Chef U’s book.


What Brought Chef Yukichi Matsubara to Malaysia

In 2006, Chef U was invited by Malaysia’s former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir, to lead the team at “The Loaf” located in Langkawi Island as Grand Chef.

He was also the General Manager of the Pavillion KL branch and the man behind many of The Loaf’s signature items.

A few years later in 2011, Chef U as Director and Grand Chef, brought the Bonjour Garden chain to Kuala Lumpur.


The Birth of Chef Yukichi Matsubara's Own Eatery: B-Lab

The idea of starting his own eatery hatched in 2014, and that was when Chef U ventured out to open his very own B-Lab. Chef U spoke about the “chemistry” of combining three concepts – a Bistro, Bakery, and Bar under one roof, hence B-Lab.

His menu is an inspiration of what he personally enjoys, using freshly baked bread that is produced in-house to complement his dishes.

Located prominently in VERVE Shops, B-Lab has become popular with not only expatriate residents, especially the Japanese, but also the locals of Mont Kiara.

The Concoction of Kinu – Premium Japanese Milk Bread

Tapping on his expertise in breadmaking, Chef U was challenged by a good friend to bring the Nama Shokupan trend to Malaysia, so that we can all enjoy this soft fluffy bread without having to fly to Japan. Needless to say, Chef U aced the challenge!

Kinu in Japanese means silk and it’s the perfect way of describing this loaf of bread we had the honour of trying. It was not only pillowy soft, with silky texture, but also very delicious with a rich, slightly sweet, milky aroma.

We were not surprised when Chef U shared how he has a regular flow of customers that keeps returning to purchase his Kinu loaf.

In Japan, packaging is seen as an integral part of the product experience and Chef U ensured that his Kinu was also well packaged. Many bought loaves and loaves of Kinu as gifts for their loved ones, and that was how word of mouth brought in more repeated customers, especially Japanese expats. They went from producing 12 loaves to 30 loaves of Kinu flying off the shelves daily.

“What’s your secret to making Kinu?”

You bet, we are just as curious as you are, so we asked Chef U what his secrets are to making a good loaf of Nama Shokupan.

He shared that “using high quality ingredients makes a huge difference”.

Chef U’s recipe consist of 100% high quality wheat flour imported from Japan (via Marubishi). Chef U uses a mix of Pan Syokunin and Super Melanger – both flour from Taiyo Flour Milling Company.

Taiyo Seifun - Pan Syokunin  Taiyo Seifun - Super Melanger   

Pan Syokunin is said to contribute to the soft, silky texture, whereas Super Melanger is what gives the loaf its strong oven spring to help increase volume. “After kneading, the dough condition is firm and elastic,” he adds.

Both flours combined, lends a high liquid absorption capacity, which in turns helps produce softer bread. The recipe contains 80% of liquid, but no water is used when making Kinu.

Instead, Chef U uses a mix of milk, whipping cream, honey, and glucose. He also shared that there are 4 types of sweeteners used in this recipe, one of them being icing sugar. The finer grain of sugar contributes to the soft texture.

Even the butter used is A.O.C grade from France, which has a distinct character and richness. Chef U also adds natural rock salt to the mix to bring out the flavours and aromas present in the flour and other ingredients.

Of course, Chef U's recipe remains a secret, but we do have a Nama Shokupan recipe using the combination of both of these flours that you can find here

Chef U's Commitment to Quality

Chef U places a high importance on providing value to his customers. High quality ingredients are important, but it is important to always ensure that the quality is consistent. This is why, when training his team, he emphasizes on the importance of customer’s satisfaction.

Chef U shared that it was difficult to obtain good-quality products before Marubishi was established in Malaysia in 2013. He revealed that he had to import ingredients such as flour directly from Japan on his own. We have had the honour of Chef U supporting us and utilizing our services for over a decade since his Bonjour Garden days. Thank you, Chef U!

How the F&B Industry Has Evolved in the Past 10 Years

“One thing’s for sure, there are a lot more artisanal bakeries in Malaysia now,” Chef U answered. “Especially European-style cafes.”

We cannot agree more! Freshly-baked bread and pastries seem to be all the hype now.

With technology advancing, Chef U also mentioned how purchasing can now be easily and conveniently done online with just a click of the button. In the past, one had to be more hands-on and source their supplies in person.

Chef U believes that the rise of online ordering systems has had both positive and negative consequences for the F&B industry. On the one hand, it has led to increased productivity and efficiency, as businesses can now take orders and process payments online. This is especially beneficial for businesses that are struggling with understaffing issues.

However, Chef U also believes that the rise of online ordering systems has led to a decline in the personal touch that customers used to receive when ordering food in person.

Chef U wants to continue to focus on providing his customers with "heart-to-heart service" at B-Lab. He believes that customers dine out to enjoy the service as much as the food, and that the personal touch makes a big difference in the overall experience.

Chef U's Words of Wisdom for Junior Chefs

We asked if Chef U had any words of advice for fellow junior chefs stepping foot in the industry.

"Ask yourself, 'What do I want to be in 10 years?' then set a goal and work towards achieving it," Chef U said. "Improve your skills and knowledge, and always ask yourself how you can be better, kinder, and cooler."

Chef U's advice is simple but effective. It encourages junior chefs to have a long-term vision for their careers, to constantly learn and improve, and to strive to be the best versions of themselves.

The advice is also relevant to people in other industries. Whether you're a junior chef, a student, or a working professional, it's always good to have a goal in mind, to set your sights high, and be the best you can be.

What's Next for Chef U?

Chef U is certainly keeping to his mantra with a new venture of a totally different concept upcoming in 2024. We are eagerly awaiting more details.

Chef U has always been a visionary chef, and his new venture is sure to be something special. We are excited to see what he has in store for us, and we are sure that it will be something that will challenge and excite the culinary world.

Chef U is truly one inspiring figure! In addition to running B-Lab, he is currently also a consultant to Jaya Grocer and the Southeast Asian Brand Ambassador for California Raisin, California Milk Advisory Board, and US Potato. He certainly has a lot on his plate, but he seems to be juggling it all with ease.

If you're a fan of bread, you owe it to yourself to try Chef U's creations. His bread is simply divine—light, fluffy, and we promise, you will never forget the first bite. The bread literally melts in your mouth. Head on down to B-Lab and get yourself a loaf of Kinu. 😉