Sakai Hiroyuki (born April 2, 1942) is a well-known Japanese chef who specializes in French cuisine. Sakai is most famous for being the second, and last, Iron Chef French on the Japanese television show Iron Chef,first appearing at the beginning of 1994 (after Ishinabe Yutaka retired) and continued his appearance in shows over nine seasons. Sakai has the third best winning percentage of the Iron Chefs, trailing only his Iron Chef French predecessor, Ishinabe Yutaka and the first Iron Chef Japanese Rokusaburo Michiba. His stature as the top chef on the show was formalized when he was named the "King of Iron Chefs" after emerging victorious from the show's grand finale, a tournament involving all the active Iron Chefs. He went on to defeat the top chef in the world, Alain Passard, in the grand finale Long-Gang Chicken battle prior to the closure of the Iron Chef series. His record on Iron Chef is 70-15-1.
Over the course of the series, Sakai became famous for being a ladies man; his smooth personality and friendly attitude certainly helped in this regard. His television trademark is a red French chef's costume; he rises into Kitchen Stadium holding a nashi pear in his hand. He is often described as the "Delacroix of French cuisine" because of the presentation of his dishes.
Sakai was originally asked to be on Iron Chef by the producer Matsuo Toshihiko following the recommendation from hotel restaurateur Kumagai KIhachi. Sakai agreed after being convinced by his staff, believing the impression that the show would air for another six months, giving him two or three appearances. The six-month tenure, as it turned out, turned into six years. The early era of Iron Chef saw Sakai being the "middle Iron Chef" along with Rokusaburo Michiba, a chef twelve years his senior, and Chen Kenichi, the youngest and least experienced of the three Iron Chefs at the time. It is often viewed by fans as the period when Iron Chef had the strongest Iron Chefs.
Reactions to Sakai's appointment to Iron Chef were largely negative amongst chefs circles, largely because of the low stature of Iron Chef among chefs at the time which led many to believe would ruin their reputations as chefs, but others also believing that there was no possibility that any French dish would take less than one hour to prepare. However, as the show became more popular, chefs, judges, and fans became more supportive. It was said that Sakai's son's employer had his employees frequent the restaurant as a show of support.
Like many chefs, Sakai did not take to losing very well. Upon his first loss, he had tried to be cheerful in explaining his loss to a younger chef who also owned his own restaurant, but his entire staff was mortified upon hearing the news. His daughter was teased in school whenever Sakai had lost - although this was a fairly rare occurrence. In an effort to learn from others, Sakai often tasted food opponents had prepared, or grabbed assistants and asked them questions after the battle was over.
Outside of Iron Chef, Sakai is the owner and head chef of the restaurant La Rochelle, originally in Aoyama and then moved to Shibuya which closed its operation as of September 30th 2011. The restaurant was named after La Rochelle, a city in France where Sakai had spent some time as an apprentice. Sakai is a member of the Club des Trente, an organization of French chefs in Japan. Sakai was mentored by the Japan's pioneer of French Cooking, Shido Fujio for three years.
After the series' run, Sakai appeared in several Iron Chef specials. In the "New York Special," he gave a presentation to the Culinary Institute of America on the preparation of salmon, assisted by Iron Chef Italian Kobe Masahiko. Sakai's skilled knife work is evidenced in an apple peeling contest against two CIA students on YouTube. He also appeared on Iron Chef America : Battle of the Masters, where he lost a trout battle to Bobby Flay (during which he created a trout-flavored ice cream) and teamed up with Mario Batali in a seafood battle.
In 2009, Sakai was named a recipient of the Gendai no Meiko (Contemporary Master Craftsmen) awards, honoring Japan's foremost artisans in various fields.
In 2010, Sakai was a guest judge for the MasterChef Australia season 2 finals week.
In 2013, Sakai was a Guest of Iron Chef for the Iron Chef Thailand".