Waves of delicacy
Tetsuya Wakuda is the most japanese of australian chefs. His love for the sea has taken him across the ocean, carried him through life's many trials and enabled him to make a name for himself on the culinary scene in his adoptive country. Don't be misled by his gentle humility - Tetsuya's cuisine has a soft approach as it surfs between cultures, but it will take you riding on a bombora wave of deep taste sensations.
“TETSUYA IS THE CHEF’S VERSION OF SENSITIVITY,” SAYS HIS HIGH-PROFILE CATALAN COUNTERPART FERRAN ADRIA. IN HIS KITCHEN, IT’S TRUE THAT THERE’S NO HARSH TREATMENT, EITHER TOWARDS HIS TEAM OR THE DISHES HE COOKS WITH SUCH CARE. Tetsuya’s aim is to draw wealth from simplicity, never allowing one flavour to dominate another. Harmony is the ultimate goal. However, underneath the chef’s renowned humility and good humour, a little-known inner strength shines through. This was what propelled him to leave the shores of home at the age of 22 and confront the vastness of Australia without a penny to his name and not a word of English. “In the kitchen, as in life, fear of failure has no place,” believes Tetsuya. Carried by the ocean to the beaches of Sydney, it was appropriate that his first job was in the fish restaurant Fishwives, working as a dish-washer. Another of Tetsuya’s talents is his ability to learn from the people around him. When he was hired to make sushi by Tony Bilson, a star of the Sydney restaurant circuit, he worked hard, listened and learned (discovering the basics of French cuisine in particular), and then started to improvise. His sensual creations, at the crossroads of East and West, were so popular that he took another risk in starting his own restaurant. Now a star in his adopted homeland, he has turned his eye back to Asia to open Waku Ghin, an exclusive restaurant in Singapore. With space for twenty diners, this new venture turns the spotlight onto another one of his passions: caviar. “Fine sake and caviar is better than sex!” Still waters run deep. There is plenty to discover under Tetsuya’s calm exterior.
What made you leave your home in japan for australia, without a penny to your name and despite not speaking any english?
TETSUYA. I’ve always been fascinated by Western culture. I often felt like I was a bit Western, compared to my family and Japanese friends. My youthful thirst for adventure won out over sensible considerations about money or languages!
When you were young, was australia seen as a land of opportunity, a kind of “australian dream”?
T. I don’t think so at the time, but I do know that I had always wanted to visit Australia and behold its incredible natural sights, such as the Great Barrier Reef or Tasmania.
How does one man go from being a dishwasher to an internationally renowned chef?
T. Through hard work! And by taking the opportunities A taste for research Some recipes take months to perfect. Tetsuya’s future dishes are born in the design laboratory he has created above the restaurant. that come your way. If I had been too proud to take the low-paid jobs I was offered, I would never have gained some of the skills I have now. I’ve always been a risk-taker and I’ve been lucky enough to be successful with them. Plus, I’ve had support from my friends and colleagues who brought customers into my restaurants and treated me like family in this unfamiliar land.
What’s the first thing you learned in the kitchen and what has cooking taught you?
T. My mother used to cook a lot. I probably learned more than I realised at the time, particularly in terms of flavours. When I arrived in Australia, even though I didn’t have a firm grasp of basic cooking techniques, I was lucky enough to work with excellent chefs right from the start, who helped me learn more about techniques and flavour. Cooking has taught me to pay more attention to nature and ingredients – and that hard work always pays off!
What were your first culinary emotions? And what was your first experience of australian food?
T. My first emotions naturally came from my mother’s cooking. My first experience of Australian cooking was a hamburger – what they call “The Lot” – packed with cheese, bacon, egg, beetroot and more!
Why did you choose to blend japanese and french cuisine in a restaurant in australia?
T. It wasn’t really a choice or a decision. I learned about French cuisine when I worked with Tony Bilson. My taste buds were already used to Japanese flavours and the principle of cooking with seasonal ingredients was an integral part of who I was. I left Japan to find a new direction in my life, but I brought all that with me. Luck has really smiled on me here in Australia.
What ingredients are essential for you? Are there any typically australian products that you recommend?
T. There are so many exceptional products in Australia, especially in Tasmania. I can’t do without ocean trout, which is the main ingredient of my flagship dish. An ingredient I would recommend is Leatherwood honey [ed: produced in the forests of Western Tasmania]. It’s a unique product with a very special flavour (balsamic and spicy notes) and a history that has always fascinated me. I obviously continue to use Japanese ingredients that Western palates are not used to. I know how astounding it can be to experience a completely different culinary culture and I like the idea of bringing this experience to others.
Tell us about the signature dish you mentioned. In what way is it typical of your work?
T. The dish is Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout. It speaks volumes of my love for the ocean and fishing, which is another passion of mine. Culinary techniques have moved on and now showcase fish much better than they did before, bringing it to centre-stage as a star ingredient, both in terms of flavour and appearance. This recipe also includes kombu, a Japanese seaweed, which is a symbol of my background.
Can you give us three key words that sum up your culinary philosophy?
T. Flavour, texture and contrast.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for gastronomy in australia?
T. It’s great to see more and more Australian chefs gaining recognition on the international stage. After so many years of the big thing being “anything from abroad”, we are now seeing some real enthusiasm for local produce. I’m very pleased for our economy and for our nation.
What are your favourite restaurants in sydney? And elsewhere?
T. I love eating at Buon Ricordo. Armando [Percuoco], the chef, has been a close friend of mine for many years. I’ve always enjoyed Est. And Azuma is the most remarkable Japanese restaurant I have come across in Australia. Internationally, I’m very impressed by the quality of restaurants in Japan. At the moment, Ishikawa in Tokyo is one of the best. Opening a restaurant in Singapore has also given me plenty of opportunities to eat out there and I am always pleased to be able to go to Shiraishi at the Ritz Carlton.
Apart from gastronomy, what are your big passions?
T. I love being able to travel and discover different cultures – including culinary cultures, of course! I also love ceramic art and consider myself a bit of a collector. But what I enjoy most is fishing and sailing. When the sails are up and I’m lucky enough to be heading out to the ocean to fish, that’s when I’m able to relax properly and let go.
Everyone says you are very kind, gentle and attentive. Can you tell us something bad about yourself?
T. Of course! I expect total commitment and an immense amount of hard work from my staff. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that I’m not always kind and gentle!
Finally, would you say that cuisine is a force for good?
T. I believe it makes life richer. In any case, it has certainly enriched mine.
CONFIT OF PETUNA OCEAN TROUT
SERVES 4 – PREPARATION TIME : 3 hrs 30 min. COOKING TIME: approx. 8 min.
INGREDIENTS : 350 g skinless, boneless ocean trout filet
Marinade : 100 ml (3.5 floz.) grapeseed oil - 80 ml (3 floz.) olive oil - 1/2 tablespoon of ground coriander - 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper - 10 basil leaves - 3 sprigs of thyme - 1/4 teaspoon of chopped garlic - 2 sticks of celery, chopped - 2 small carrots, chopped - 3 tablespoons of chopped chives - 4 tablespoons of chopped kombu - 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt - 2 tablespoons of ocean trout roe. Julienne : 1/4 Granny Smith apple, julienne - 1/4 celery stick, julienne - 1 teaspoon of lemon juice - salt and pepper - 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Parsley oil : 1/4 bunch of flat-leaf parsley - 100 ml (3.5 floz.) olive oil - 1/2 tablespoon of capers in brine, rinsed.
Cut the trout fillet into 70-80 g portions. Mix the marinade ingredients and place the trout in the marinade. Cover and set aside for at least 2 hours. Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature. Remove the trout from the marinade. Leave to stand at room temperature. Line a dish with the chopped celery and carrots. Place the trout portions in the dish. Bake gently in the oven with the door ajar. Brush regularly with the marinade. Cook for 7-8 min. depending on the size of the trout portions (no more than 10 min). The flesh should be warm, glossy, orangey-red and should give slightly when touched. Blend the parsley leaves, olive oil and capers to make the parsley oil. Season the apple and celery julienne with lemon juice, salt, pepper and oil. Take the trout out of the oven, remove from the dish and leave to stand. Sprinkle it with the chives, kombu and sea salt. Arrange a small portion of the julienne on each plate, place a trout portion on top and season with the parsley oil. Add a little trout roe and serve.
SALT & PEPPER CRAB MEAT
SERVES 4 – PREPARATION TIME : 5 min. COOKING TIME: 3 min.
INGREDIENTS : 200 g (7 oz.) Raw Queensland Spanner Crab Meat (or other fresh crab meat) - 100 g (3.5 oz.) egg white - 15 ml (0.5 floz.) rice wine (low-alcohol Chinese wine) - 1 garlic clove, chopped - 1/2 teaspoon of cracked pepper - 1 fresh onion to garnish. Salt & Pepper mix : 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper - 1 teaspoon of Chinese five spice - 2 teaspoons of salt - 3 teaspoons of sugar.
Mix together the ingredients of the Salt & Pepper mix. Fry the chopped garlic gently in a hot pan until golden. Add the crab meat and stir until the meat turns white and starts to come apart. In a separate bowl, blend the egg white and rice wine. Add this mixture to the pan on one side and then proceed as if you were making scrambled egg. Season the crab meat with a little Salt & Pepper mix to taste. Arrange on plates and garnish with thin strips of fresh onion and a pinch of crushed pepper on top.
DATES MARINATED IN COFFEE
FOR 15 DATES – MARINADE : 30 days
INGREDIENTS : 15 dates - 400 ml Ristretto - 1 vanilla pod - zest of 1 orange - 50 g (2 oz.) caster sugar.
Split the vanilla pod in two. Scrape out the seeds and mix them into the coffee. Cut the vanilla pod into thin strips, 4 cm long, and add them to the coffee. Chop the orange zest finely and add to the coffee and vanilla mixture. Put the dates into the coffee mixture. Marinate for 30 days. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
TETSUYA IN 8 DATES
1960 : Tetsuya Wakuda was born on Honshu Island, Japan.
1982 : Left for Australia.
1983 : First culinary job in the restaurant of master chef Tony Bilson.
1989 : Launched Tetsuya’s in the Sydney suburbs.
2000 : Moved to a Japanese garden in the heart of Sydney.
2004 : Became a Member of "Relais & Châteaux".
2009 : Received the Best Restaurant in Australasia Award from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy.
2010 : Opened his first restaurant abroad: Waku Ghin in Singapore
Production : Sandrine Giacobetti, Text : Anna Penotti, Photography : Jean-Claude Amiel