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Samurai Blue’s chef gets his ‘lucky chef’s jacket’ ready for 5th World Cup

©JFA
Yoshiteru Nishi, the chef of Japan’s national soccer team, prepares a dish.

Chef Yoshiteru Nishi made his World Cup debut in 2006 when he served meals at the showpiece soccer tournament for Japan’s national for the first time. Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Nishi is preparing for what could be his last tournament with Samurai Blue.

“Considering my age, I’m thinking of making this one my last,” Nishi said during a Japan Football Association press conference on Oct. 20. “But he won’t stop. I think he’ll definitely continue,” a ruffled-looking JFA official said in response.

Nishi, who has served as executive chef at the J Village national soccer training facility in Fukushima Prefecture, is considered to be an irreplaceable member of the team. He has accompanied Samurai Blue on more than 130 overseas trips since 2004.

During a preliminary inspection of the team hotel in Doha in late September, Nishi carefully checked things such as the air conditioning system in the kitchen and the access routes to the dining hall, as well as food-related matters.

As Qatar is a Muslim country, it might be difficult to make dishes with pork, which is rich in vitamin B1 and is said to help athletes recover from fatigue.

But the veteran chef is unfazed. “I’m going to use more beef or chicken liver as a substitute for pork,” he said.

Soccer players sometimes run more than 10 kilometers over 90 minutes in games.

Nishi will serve the standard national team menu to provide optimal nutritional support, consisting of hamburger steak three days before a match, grilled cod two days before and eel on the eve of a game.

He said he plans to consult with the players and staff to decide what else to serve.

“Some players say they only look forward to the meals,” Nishi said. “It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like I’m cooking a meal for my family and trying to create a happy atmosphere.”

Over the past 18 years with Samurai Blue, Nishi has sometimes experienced difficulties during overseas trips. When the team traveled to Pyongyang in November 2011 to play North Korea in a qualifying match for the Brazil World Cup, he wasn’t able to take ingredients. But the experienced chef had warm interactions with the local staff, whose cooperation was necessary for him to create appetizing cuisine.

Nishi received a pleasant surprise during the final qualifying round for the Qatar World Cup. Team captain Maya Yoshida presented Nishi with a bright red chef’s jacket for his 60th birthday ahead of a crucial match against Australia in March, with Japan needing a win to secure a berth in Qatar.

The team won the match, and ever since, the players have asked him to wear the jacket on the day of games as it is considered to be something of a good luck charm in the camp.

For Nishi, the national team’s success is his biggest reward.

He served a pork curry at the South Africa and Russia world cups, where Japan progressed to the knockout stage of the tournaments. “We were able to win thanks to Nishi,” a player said.

Nishi is looking forward to donning his lucky red chef’s jacket when the tournament kicks off next week. Whether the curry will contain beef, chicken, or lamb this time is yet to be revealed.