His name was Louis Beguex.
It was 1887 in Kobe, Japan at the Oriental Hotel, a hotel built to accommodate foreigners.
As they say in hospitality, the guest is king. The kings at the Oriental were hungry–––not for Japanese cuisine, but fine French dining.
Not that they had to beg for French meal options. Since 1873, the Japanese government had made it an obligation to serve foreign dignitaries French cuisine because Naval officers Matthew C. Perry and Yevfimiy Putyatin gave Japanese food bad reviews during official visits.
Apparently, the way to a man’s heart was really through his stomach–––as long as it was French food going down his pipes.
The Oriental needed someone to serve its royally picky eaters. That someone was Chef Beguex.
He had already been head chef at Tsukiji Hotel–––Japan’s first Western-style hotel built in 1868. Five years later, he made head chef again at Yokohama Grand Hotel.
Beguex ran Le Restaurant française at the Oriental until he returned to France in 1890. His absence proved his excellence. Without Beguex, the Oriental’s food service turned mediocre.
Desperate, the hotel hired Beguex’s son to pick up where his father left off. The Oriental’s guests were happy kings again. And the Beguex family sped up a culinary movement in Japan that continues to this very day.
Leftovers from the Oriental?
The Beguexes would not recognize the Oriental Hotel in Kobe today. It underwent a makeover following its destruction from the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. The hotel has a sushi bar–––a red flag for any of Beguex’s guests.
But, good news. Beguex’s legacy lives on just 5 minutes away by foot at a place called L’Ami.
L’Ami serves dishes that are mostly unchanged from the early days of the Oriental. Doi Heihachi, now 81 years old, worked his first job in the Oriental’s kitchen. After six years of learning the recipes for French cuisine––introduced by the Beguexes and carried on by their Japanese successors–––Doi opened L’Ami.
What French elements does Doi’s restaurant retain from the olden days of the Oriental? For starters, the restaurant’s name is in French. It means “the friend.”
But Doi doesn’t identify his restaurant as a French one. Instead, he calls it a Youshoku-ten (洋食店), or “Western food restaurant.”
So, is it French or not?
As perhaps many French tourists would say to even an obvious croissant or baguette in Japan, it is not.
Japanese Foods You Didn’t Know Started French
One look at L’Ami’s menu might make a French person’s heart stop.
Omurice. Minced katsuretsu. Crab cream korokke.
Reader, if you are French, please don’t attack Japan just yet. We can explain.
French Omelette to Japanese Omurice
Five years after the father of French cuisine left Japan for good, Rengatei (煉瓦亭) in Tokyo opened in 1895. As does L’Ami, Rengatei also calls itself youshoku-ten.
Located in Ginza, this French restaurant is said to be the origin place of omurice–––a bed of ketchup rice topped with a giggly omelette that is now a staple in Japanese households.
The idea to combine a French omelette and rice together came by accident. The cook had made himself a quick meal and was eating it out of the frying pan. A customer came in and asked for the same thing: an omelette with rice.
There’s another yoshoku-ten that claims to have invented omurice. It’s in Osaka and is named Hokkyokusei (北極星). The story goes that there was a regular customer who was feeling unwell. He could only eat rice and omelette. The owner felt bad for always serving the same dish to the customer. So he added ketchup to the rice and wrapped it in the omelette.
So, there you go. The French omelette turned into omurice.
Today, omurice at Kichikichi in Kyoto is a major tourist attraction for domestic and foreign visitors. Chances are you’ve seen the cook on TikTok or Instagram at least once.
Côtelettes To Katsuretsu
The influx of French cuisine to Japan–––of which Beguex was a crucial part –––brought the French côtelettes, or cutlet as we say in English.
The original French recipe used veal. But because veal was not widely available in Japan, chefs had to go with what was more available: chicken and pork.
An abomination to the French chefs at the time, but a modern masterpiece to many Japanese today, the côtelettes evolved into katsuretsu (カツレツ) which is often served with curry and rice.
If you eat out in Japan, you might also see tonkatsu (豚カツ), which is a thicker version of katsuretsu.
Croquettes to korokke
Croquettes made their debut in Japan without too much deconstruction. As they are traditionally made in France, chefs in Japan made croquettes with a thick cream filling.
But thanks to British influence, potatoes entered the mix. Then everything was on the table. The Japanese started adding meat and even fish.
At L’Ami, they serve korokke with crab inside.
McDonald’s in Japan sells steamy gurakoro (グラコロ) at the end of every year. It’s a croquette filled with white sauce, shrimp, and macaroni.
None of this is to say you can’t get authentic French food in Japan. You can. The country has a thriving French restaurant scene. But the popularized versions of many French foods have long since drifted from their origins.
As is the case with these examples of French cuisine gone rogue in Japan, there are also plenty of other examples. We just don’t realize the French influence on some foods because they have been so dramatically altered to match Japanese taste.
What works for the Japanese palate might upset yours. Either avoid your home country’s foods in Japan or try it out for comparison!
What to read next
 Oriental Kobe. The Most Famous Hotels In The World
 近代日本とフランス. National Diet Library, Japan
 旧オリエンタルホテルの味 受け継ぐ人気洋食店. The Kobe Shimbun
 香住カニの【カニクリームコロッケ】 オムライス、エビフライ…懐かしの洋食店 神戸元町「L’Ami（ラミ）」. ラジオ関西トピックス
 洋食ルーツストーリー. 米食文化研究所
 黒船ペリーからわずか14年、幕府のおもてなしはフランス料理になった。. Kodansha Book Club
 【ユン大統領思い出のオムライス】創業128年、江戸前洋食の総本山、【煉瓦亭】の厨房に潜入！. FORZA STYLE
 Detail of reference example. Collaborative Reference Database
 Welcome to Kichikichi!. Omurice Kichikichi
 「カツレツ」ってどんな料理？「トンカツ」との違いやおうちで作れるレシピをご紹介. Kurashiru
 クロケットとコロッケの違いって何？発祥や由来について解説！. Kurashiru
 マクドナルドの一年を締めくくる冬の定番「グラコロ」が今年も登場！. McDonald’s
 ビーフシチューとオムレツがひとつになった贅沢なランチ ”神戸洋食とワインの店 飲・食・歓 L’Ami（ラミ）”. 美味いもんグルメ日記
 【神戸・元町】昼夜オムライス食べ比べ：ラミ（L’Ami）. あさげ ひるげ ゆうげ ｜ ひとり飲みや気軽なグルメの神戸食べ飲み歩き日記
 【三宮】洋食屋「ラミ」でランチ！オムレツとカニクリームコロッケがおすすめ！行列覚悟！穴場時間は？. 神戸ふらっとグルメ