TETSUYA WAKUDA

From want­ing to learn English in Ja­pan to be­com­ing a chef and open­ing his first restau­rant, Tetsuya in Aus­tralia, Tetsuya Wakuda has come a long way. Now he tells the story of his lat­est restau­rant, Waku Ghin in Ma­rina Bay Sands, Sin­ga­pore, and his culin

Exquisite Taste - - Up Close & Personal - By Runi In­drani

: When and how did you first dis­cover you had a pas­sion for cook­ing? Can you tell the story of your kitchen jour­ney prior to open­ing your first restau­rant, Tetsuya’s? Wakuda: I stum­bled into the culi­nary world by ac­ci­dent when I first ar­rived in Syd­ney at 22 years old. I grew up in Ha­ma­matsu, Ja­pan, and as a child, I dreamt of liv­ing over­seas. I was ea­ger to ex­pe­ri­ence life out­side of Ja­pan and to learn English. I didn’t know much about Aus­tralia then, ex­cept for its koalas and kan­ga­roos. I was lucky to have a friend who got me a job as a kitchen hand at Fish­wives in Surry Hills in 1982 as he felt that it would be the best place for me to pick up English for free, and to earn some money for my ex­penses. Since then, I fell in love with the food and with the coun­try and have never looked back. Af­ter­wards I learned about clas­sic French tech­niques at Kin­sela’s with Chef Tony Bil­son, the start of my cook­ing style, which com­bines French tech­niques with Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy us­ing nat­u­ral, sea­sonal flavours. In 1983 I opened Ul­timo’s with a part­ner, and in 1989, I had the op­por­tu­nity to open my own restau­rant, Tetsuya’s, which later was re­lo­cated to the CBD at a re­fur­bished her­itage-listed site at 529 Kent Street. In 2010, I was in­vited to open Waku Ghin at the iconic Ma­rina Bay Sands in Sin­ga­pore.

: What have been your big­gest in­spi­ra­tions?

W: When I see good, fresh in­gre­di­ents, my imag­i­na­tion fires up. I get very in­spired from the in­gre­di­ents them­selves. Noth­ing can beat good qual­ity, fresh in­gre­di­ents.

: You have come a long way from Ja­pan to Aus­tralia, to open­ing an­other restau­rant in Sin­ga­pore, what has been your big­gest ob­sta­cle in achiev­ing suc­cess, and how did you over­come it?

W: As a restau­ra­teur and chef for the last three decades, I feel what’s most im­por­tant is keep­ing our core au­di­ence – our guests – happy. This goal is what we strive for ev­ery day at Waku Ghin, with our dishes show­cas­ing the finest in­gre­di­ents along­side ex­em­plary ser­vice. It is not easy for any restau­rant to de­liver at such a high stan­dard ev­ery sin­gle day, but con­sis­tency is key to the ex­pe­ri­ence of our guests. I’m glad that I

have an out­stand­ing team of un­sung he­roes in the restau­rant who work tire­lessly be­hind the scenes.

: How would you de­scribe your cook­ing style in gen­eral, and also in par­tic­u­lar in Waku Ghin?

W: The din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Waku Ghin is per­son­alised and in­ti­mate. The restau­rant’s din­ing con­cept is based upon a multi-faced use of space where din­ers can move from room to room, lux­u­ri­at­ing over the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The 8,000 square foot restau­rant seats 25 peo­ple at any one time, pro­vid­ing a truly be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ence. Each pri­vate en­clo­sure is helmed by a chef, bring­ing for­ward the sea­son’s best to the Chef’s Ta­ble over a 10-course de­gus­ta­tion menu that show­cases a Euro­pean-Ja­panese cui­sine. Din­ers then move on to the main din­ing room or draw­ing room to re­lax over desserts, cof­fee and a di­ges­tif. I’ve al­ways wanted to do a chef’s ta­ble, and I get to do that at Waku Ghin, which has four pri­vate din­ing rooms. This close­ness be­tween the chef and our din­ers re­minds me of my ear­lier days. When I first started out 25 years ago, it was just one per­son in the kitchen, a dish­washer and a crowd of din­ers in front of me. So those days of strug­gling to cook for 30 peo­ple in a hot kitchen, and them ap­plaud­ing me at the end of the night – that’s the kind of in­ti­macy that I wanted to re­cap­ture. Of course, over here, ev­ery­thing is more lux­u­ri­ous, but the chef’s ta­ble con­cept re­minds me of the good old days.

: In cook­ing, how do you main­tain your iden­tity while bring­ing in new ideas and in­no­va­tions?

W: I try to stay true to my phi­los­o­phy in cook­ing, which is us­ing nat­u­ral and sea­sonal flavours in my dishes, with the best in­gre­di­ents that I can get from around the world. Over the last few decades, food trends have been chang­ing mas­sively. Re­gard­less, my cui­sine al­ways stays sim­ple. From time to time, dishes evolve de­pend­ing on the avail­abil­ity of in­gre­di­ents, but to me, great pro­duce does not re­quire too much in­ter­ven­tion or it loses its orig­i­nal form.

: Can you tell us about a sig­na­ture dish at Waku Ghin?

W: One of our sig­na­ture dishes at Waku Ghin is the mar­i­nated Botan shrimp with sea urchin and caviar com­pris­ing three of my favourite in­gre­di­ents. The dish is del­i­cately pre­pared with the sea urchin lightly sea­soned with Ja­panese soy and mirin to en­hance the nat­u­ral flavours and the Botan shrimp is mar­i­nated with salt, pep­per, olive oil, shal­lots and tar­ragon. Served to­gether with Osci­etra caviar, the flavour of the whole dish comes to­gether and is well­bal­anced with­out over­pow­er­ing any of the in­gre­di­ents. Sim­ple yet so­phis­ti­cated.

: You’ve been through quite the jour­ney as a chef, what fu­ture goals do you have? W: I’m al­ways work­ing on new pro­jects. At Waku Ghin, we have just ex­tended the menu at The Bar at Waku Ghin. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence not only for our reg­u­lars, but also for those who have never vis­ited Waku Ghin be­fore. The ex­tended bar menu now fea­tures over 15 à la carte items in­clud­ing new dishes which are my favourites, such as the sea urchin and sal­mon roe set on rice, and toasted Parma ham and black truf­fle sand­wich. It also in­cludes a se­lec­tion of oys­ters, caviar, pas­tas and cheeses, as well as a daily se­lec­tion of ex­quis­ite petit cakes from Patis­serie Pla­tine, our pas­try off­shoot. At The Bar at Waku Ghin, guests can also en­joy over 85 hand­crafted cock­tails that fea­ture the art of Ja­panese-style cock­tail­mak­ing at its best. It is also stocked with an equally im­pres­sive se­lec­tion of whiskies from Ja­pan, America, Canada, Ire­land and Aus­tralia and a well cu­rated se­lec­tion of sake, in­clud­ing the ex­clu­sive Waku Ghin Iso­ji­man Jun­mai Daig­injo M la­bel pro­duced for me.

Mar­i­nated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Caviar

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