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.