TET­SUYA WAKUDA

Wine & Dine - - LUXURY REDEFINED: VISIONARIES - Chef-owner, Waku Ghin

Born and raised in the Ja­pa­nese town of Ha­ma­matsu in Shizuoka Pre­fec­ture, Tet­suya Wakuda moved to Syd­ney, Aus­tralia when he was twenty two years old, where he worked un­der chef Tony Bil­son at Kin­se­las. It was there where he learned clas­si­cal French tech­niques and formed the be­gin­nings of a cook­ing style that would even­tu­ally help him be­come one of Aus­tralia’s finest chefs.

Sev­eral years af­ter his stint at Kin­se­las, Wakuda opened his first restau­rant, Tet­suya’s, in Syd­ney, and in 2010 launched Waku Ghin in Sin­ga­pore. The lat­ter is now ranked No. 23 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 list. Wakuda has also been hon­oured as the Ja­pa­nese sake in­dus­try’s first over­seas sake samu­rai (or am­bas­sador), and was the first in­ter­na­tion­ally based chef to be named one of Ja­pan’s masters of cui­sine.

What does lux­ury mean to you?

To me, food is for giv­ing, and the act of cook­ing is a gift from the cook to the diner. There­fore be­ing able to cre­ate that un­for­get­table din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for my guests is my def­i­ni­tion of lux­ury.

Do you view food as a lux­ury?

I al­ways be­lieve that if you want to be a good chef, you must have a pas­sion for eat­ing. Food is cer­tainly a lux­ury for me, whether it’s a meal of home cooked dry laksa, bak kut teh, or Pek­ing duck from a fine din­ing Chi­nese restau­rant. I re­joice each time I dis­cover a good restau­rant, and what draws me to re­turn time and again is sim­ply good qual­ity.

How has the con­cept of fine din­ing changed over the years?

The core of fine din­ing will never change—and that is a com­bi­na­tion of qual­ity food, ser­vice and in­gre­di­ents. It all boils down to cre­at­ing some­thing spe­cial for the guest.

Hav­ing said that, din­ers to­day are cer­tainly ex­pect­ing more out of a fine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, through their trav­els and so­cial me­dia posts.

At Waku Ghin, our din­ing con­cept is unique to start with. We keep the ex­pe­ri­ence in­ti­mate with only two seat­ings per night, and when my chefs pre­pare the food in front of our guests, it is al­ways a feast for the eyes—a multi-sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.

Does the trend of eat­ing health­ier and more sus­tain­ably have any im­pact on fine din­ing?

I be­lieve in the col­lec­tive ef­forts of sus­tain­ably con­scious chefs in help­ing the din­ing scene to progress. This trend of eat­ing health­ier and more sus­tain­ably is an op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one to be more cre­ative and thought­ful in their sourc­ing and cook­ing. As much as we source for fresh pro­duce, we have to do it in a way that pro­tects the nat­u­ral eco-sys­tem so that it con­tin­ues to thrive.

Many years ago, I started the Pe­tuna Ocean Trout breed­ing pro­gramme in Tas­ma­nia to ed­u­cate peo­ple to pro­duce ocean trout us­ing eth­i­cal meth­ods. Among its many sus­tain­abil­ity mea­sures, Pe­tuna pro­duces ocean trout at a low pen den­sity, so that they have room to move and are there­fore healthy and stress-free. To­day, the con­fit of ocean trout is one of our sig­na­ture dishes at Tet­suya’s in Syd­ney.

In Sin­ga­pore, Waku Ghin also serves less­re­source in­ten­sive sources of pro­tein, favour­ing pre­mium seafood (60 per cent of to­tal pro­tein) over an­i­mal hus­bandry. We try to source from the best and the most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly sup­pli­ers. Our ho­jicha is sourced from a Ja­pa­nese Agri­cul­tural Stan­dard (JAS) cer­ti­fied sup­plier from Ky­oto, and the restau­rant’s kelps/seaweed are nat­u­rally har­vested as well.

How do you en­vi­sion the fine din­ing scene in the next five years?

I en­vi­sion din­ers go­ing back to sim­ple dishes. Less gar­nish, less com­pli­cated cook­ing meth­ods, same great taste. Food trends may come and go, but I al­ways stay true to my cook­ing phi­los­o­phy, which is to el­e­vate sim­ple and nat­u­ral flavours in my dishes. We may use dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents across the sea­sons, but to me, great pro­duce should not re­quire too much in­ter­ven­tion or it will lose its orig­i­nal form.

In the next five years, how do you think the younger gen­er­a­tion will de­fine a lux­u­ri­ous din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence?

The younger gen­er­a­tions are ex­pe­ri­ence seek­ers look­ing for a good story to tell. They are cu­ri­ous to learn be­yond what they see on their plates, such as where do the in­gre­di­ents come from, and how they come to­gether as a dish. This is why there is grow­ing in­ter­est in chef’s ta­bles and open kitchen con­cepts—din­ers want to feel ex­clu­sive, and they value per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions with chefs to hear their sto­ries and in­spi­ra­tions.

How dif­fer­ent is the fine din­ing scene and din­ers in Syd­ney, com­pared to Sin­ga­pore?

Syd­ney and Sin­ga­pore are both bustling metropoli­tan cities, but I feel din­ers in Sin­ga­pore tend to be more ex­per­i­men­tal be­cause of the di­ver­sity of cuisines here. Even though Sin­ga­pore is scarce in its home-grown pro­duce un­like in Aus­tralia, its ac­ces­si­bil­ity to fresh pro­duce from all over the world ranks top in the world. This means that din­ers in Sin­ga­pore can en­joy a meal of lob­sters from Canada, oys­ters from France, mar­rons from Aus­tralia, wagyu from Ja­pan—the op­tions are end­less. This gives my team a lot of free­dom and cre­ativ­ity to cre­ate a mem­o­rable din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

What are your plans for Waku Ghin in 2019?

Waku Ghin re­cently in­tro­duced, for the first time, a brand new five-course ex­ec­u­tive lunch on Fri­days, fea­tur­ing the finest and fresh­est sea­sonal pro­duce sourced from all over the world. To keep things in­ter­est­ing for our cus­tomers, we are also al­ways search­ing for amaz­ing wine and sake mak­ers to hold ex­clu­sive wine din­ners.

I also have an out­stand­ing team at Waku Ghin, in­clud­ing our head bar­tender Kazuhiro Chii and ex­ec­u­tive pas­try chef Ya­sushi Ishino, who of­ten come up with cre­ative ideas such as bar­tend­ing mas­ter­classes and lim­ited-time dessert menus.

One con­cept that will con­tinue to evolve in 2019 is The Bar at Waku Ghin. We want to be able to treat our guests with some­thing dif­fer­ent each time they re­turn—it could be a new unique bev­er­age pair­ing or new bar bites from my favourite home recipes— I want peo­ple to en­joy good food when they come to my restau­rant.

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