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Food

Tetsuya Wakuda - Impress

Tetsuya wakuda has led one of the most successful restaurants to world wide acclaim, mentoring a plethora of culinary talents along the way with his kind and trusting nature.

Tetsuya’s kitchen has likely turned out more talent than any other restaurant in Australia – but I’m not just talking about the food. A hot-bed for culinary excellence, the alumni is as diverse as it is plentiful – with chefs who have gone on to run three-hatted (and Michelin starred) restaurants, smoke-houses and casual beach-side diners.

Tetsuya Wakuda is a gentle, humble man. He is also a world-renowned culinary figure. Over three decades, Tetsuya’s has earned a reputation as one of the country’s best – one of the last bastions of traditional fine dining – rating in the World’s 50 Best, gathering scores of chef’s hats and now, with his Singapore restaurant Waku Ghin, Michelin stars.

The story of Wakuda’s entry into the restaurant world is the stuff of legend. It was 1983 and, having recently arrived from Japan, he started work washing pots in Tony Bilson’s kitchen at Kinsellas.

“I wasn’t originally there to be a cook. It was a temporary thing,” he explains, “but I really enjoyed working with him (Bilson) in the kitchen and working in the restaurant with all different people. To be honest, I never thought that was working. I enjoyed every moment.”

Wakuda’s lack of formal training may have helped foster his creativity in a system that is renowned for the opposite. “Tony would say, ‘I want this, this, this and this’, all the chefs in that time are very classically trained. Great chefs, too – they understood. I didn’t.”

Many years later, when Daniel Pepperell, now highly-acclaimed head chef of Sydney’s Hubert, started at Tetsuya’s he was treading a familiar path. “I was an 18-year-old dishwasher from Cronulla. Not knowing anything to compare it to, it seemed pretty tough and very disciplined. Looking back, it was one of the best kitchen teams i’ve ever worked with. A lot of talented chefs came out of there in that period. It was the golden era! Tetsuya is very humble. He was fierce, but always fair.”

An inspiring leader

Try Tetsuya Wakuda’s salmon carpaccio with wasabi recipe

Pepperell is one of many accomplished chefs to have spent time in  Tetsuya’s kitchen: Martin Benn (Sepia), Dan Hong (Mr Wong), Emma mccaskill (The Pot Food and Wine), Darren Robertson and Mark La Brooy (Three Blue Ducks), Dave Pynt (Burnt Endz), Kylie Javier-Ashton (Momofuku Seiobo), Luke Powell and Shannon Debreceny (LP’s Quality Meats), Dan Puskas (Sixpenny), Sam Christie (Longrain). And this is just the tip of the culinary iceberg.

Kylie Javier-Ashton, one of Sydney’s finest maitre d’s, plied her trade on the floor at Tetsuya’s. “Tetsuya was quiet but impactful,” she says of her experience. “There were times where he raised his voice, but it was what he didn’t say that was most powerful. He was incredibly focused, and his vision was very clear, which made him an inspiring leader. My time there taught me so much about caring for others.”

Taking a new lead

Try Tetsuya Wakuda's Marron with truffle mayonnaise recipe

As the Tetsuya’s alumni have spread their wings and creativity, so too has Wakuda. Six years ago he opened Waku Ghin in Singapore, the restaurant was recently awarded two Michelin stars (a measure of excellence still not available in Australia). The legacy continues to grow.

“I just thought about leadership,” Wakuda says thoughtfully. “Make sure you give them breathing space, allow them to put their own idea into it. Of course, if something is terribly wrong, I will tell them, but if it is OK, then OK. Let them be free, within a parameter.” This was the respect and luxury afforded to him by Bilson, an environment he thrived in.

Luke Powell, former head chef, recalls his early days with Tetsuya’s when he prepped the same dish for six months. He bored quickly but kept at it. It taught him the value of consistency and attention to detail. “Despite a few of us trying to steer away from this ethos by going casual or cooking rustic food, I think it is too ‘hard wired’ to let go,” he says. “This attention to detail, along with his incredibly humility, will be the legacy that is recognisable amongst Tetsuya’s protégés.”

For all he has done, we owe a great deal of gratitude to Wakuda. Not just for the decades serving us, but for the talent fostered under his care and in his kitchen, a legacy that will be felt for decades to come.

Recipes

Try Tetsuya Wakuda’s sushi at home recipe

For the ‘at home’ recipes featured in this issue, Tetsuya shows that delicious food doesn’t need to be complicated, but should be shared.

“A restaurant is precise – but when you are at home, make sure the host and guests can sit together – this is very important,’ says Tetsuya. “I’ve designed these recipes to be put in the middle and serve yourself.”

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Food
The art of Italian
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
When Lucio Galletto opened up a restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Paddington he didn’t truly envisage that it would become a cultural icon, as much an art gallery as an Italian trattoria. But due to the warm generosity of the restaurateur and clientele, this is exactly what has happened. Adorning the restaurant’s walls are works by some of the biggest names in Australian art such as Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and Garry Shead, to name but a few. The story of how this all came about and how it has helped develop his food is detailed in Lucio’s latest book, The Art of Traditional Italian. Childhood memories Lucio has always been surrounded by food, and by art. He grew up in a village on the Ligurian coast of Italy where his parents had a restaurant. He recalls the fun and convivial nature of his parents serving both friends and strangers. Almost as vividly, he recalls being mesmerised by the ornate and detailed sculptures, paintings and architecture of his poor, but culturally rich, local church. The combination has had a long and lasting affect on Lucio. So when it came to be that he opened the doors of Lucio’s in 1981 he was determined to extend the same welcoming nature that his parents had shown at their restaurant. By chance, Paddington was home to an artists’ studio, which many of Sydney’s up and coming painters and sculptures used as their creative centre, and for many of these, Lucio’s became their second home. The art evolves “Artists started to come in and some started giving me their work because they found out that I had a love of art, and so it happened,” recalls Lucio. “We didn’t plan this, we didn’t say ‘let’s make an art restaurant’, it just happened over years. “It all started with Sidney Nolan. He was involved with the movie Burke and Wills as an advisor. When they finished filming each day he would come in to eat. One time he drew a little artwork on a napkin and left it behind. I was really taken with it. You know, beautiful gold leaf – I put it up on the wall. “Well, that was the first piece of art on the wall. And when Sidney came back he looked up and saw his art and he was really taken with the fact I had given it so much love. After that he gave me some more drawings and the other art pieces. I think from that, the artists understood that I love art and artists, I look after their work. I am really honoured that they put their work up on the walls of my restaurant. It’s a great honour for me… and it all turned up by chance. “I have some great artists that come to the restaurant and they draw on napkins, plates, or in the oyster shells. They feel really at home and comfortable, and it makes me feel good that I have created this feeling, to be able to collaborate, because of the hospitality, the conviviality of my restaurant.” The Art of Traditional Italian by Lucio Galletto with photography by Ben Dearnley (Penguin) RRP $59.99
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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