The Common Flame: The Flamethrower Chef of Osaka

As we continue to explore our common connection with people across the world through cooking with fire, we hope you’ll be inspired by this talented fire magician and his love for his customers.

In the bustling streets of Osaka, Japan, a flamethrower in the kitchen is the last thing you’d expect to find.

That flamethrower is wielded by Toyoji-san, the Flamethrower Chef of Osaka, who started his food stand, Isakaya Toyo, in 1992 in the parking lot of the restaurant where he worked at the time. Toyoji-san had the goal of bringing happiness and good food to his neighborhood, so he put a stainless steel board over the back of his pickup truck and starting cooking.

Photographed by Kosuke Arakawa

Today, when the smells of smoke and delicious, flame-broiled meat fill the air, everyone stops to watch. In addition to the smells and his natural charisma, Toyoji-san’s flamethrower cooking technique is hard to miss. First, he fills a bucket with ice water and sets it near the grill. As he chars the tuna with the blowtorch in his left hand, he dips his right into the ice water and flashes it across the tuna in a second. The ice water protects his hand from being scorched as he turns the tuna meat over on the grill top.

“A Magician Who Manipulates Fire”

Why does Toyoji-san cook his food this way? First, who wouldn’t want to stop and try the food made by a man wielding a blowtorch? Second, Toyoji-san is an efficient man. Only some cuts of tuna are used for sushi and sashimi while some are thrown out. Toyoji-san wondered if he could take the cuts that would be thrown out and use them in his restaurant. 

”It’s possible, he thought, that my customers would like it if I cooked these parts of the tuna with a flame. . .What I love most is fire. I’m a magician who manipulates fire,” 

says Toyoji-san in a recent episode from a Netflix show on Osakan street food.

Photo by Luke Martin

The blowtorch also helps him cook the tuna quickly, so customers don’t have a long wait for their meal. That’s the thing that’s most endearing about Toyoji-san: his love for his customers. Everything he does is with their happiness in mind. 

Cooking the Izakaya Toyo Way

While we don’t recommend using a blowtorch to grill your meat at home (please, please don’t try this at home), there’s a way you can bring the food of an izakaya stall to your backyard grilling. Try these recipes below to flip your normal summer grilling routine.

Japanese-style Grilled Fish

Photo and recipe by Joyce Oudkerk Pool

Salt-Grilled Fish: Salmon Shioyaki Recipe

Recipe by Food Republic

Salmon Yakizuke Recipe

Photo and recipe by Cooking With Dog