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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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