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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
Peter Gilmore
Words by Mark Hughes on 14 Sep 2018
If there was one restaurant whose identity is quintessentially Australian, Quay would have to be it. Perched over Sydney Harbour, you look across to the iconic Sydney Opera House while dining on the acclaimed contemporary cuisine of Peter Gilmore.  For almost two decades, Peter has been in the upper echelon of the world’s best chefs, so he’s perfectly placed to define Australia’s food identity. He’s narrowed it down to one word: freedom. “Apart from our Indigenous history, Australia doesn’t have a long standing food history compared to countries like France or Japan,” says Peter.  “If I was a chef in France, I would have been born with a really strong French identity, but being an Australian chef, I have been exposed to so many different cuisines. So our identity is that sense of freedom and our willingness to open our palates to all different types of cuisines from around the world. “The other thing is, we can grow all the ingredients for all those cuisines somewhere in our country from the tropics right down to the cool climate areas of Victoria and Tasmania, so we have access to incredible fresh produce, so I think that has a huge influence.” From the earth Diverse produce is a certainly a key component of Peter’s cuisine and a topic he explores in his recently released book, From the Earth. Throughout its beautifully photographed pages, Peter catalogues an extensive list of rare vegetables, detailing their history and flavour profiles as well as showcasing the boutique farmers who grow them for him at Quay. “When I started growing vegetables in my own backyard 11 years ago, I realised how many unusual fruits and vegetables there are that are not in the mainstream market,” says Peter.  “Their difference is their thing. They have different profiles, looks, colours, flavours. As a chef, that is really interesting. It gives me a bigger palette to work from.” Key to a new Quay These heirloom vegetables play a key role in the new identity at Quay. For the first time in 16 years, the restaurant recently underwent a multi-million dollar face lift. The kitchen is bigger, the dining spaces more intimate. Gone too is the old menu, including the dish most people identify with Peter, his snow egg dessert.  “When we decided to renovate Quay,  I knew I had to let go of some of the signature dishes and the snow egg was one of those,” says Peter.  “I am very proud that I created an iconic dish that people love. But you have to let go of things if you want to be creative and renew. So it wasn’t that hard for me to say goodbye.” Of course, there is a new dessert, white coral – chocolate ganache that is aerated, put in liquid nitrogen and served on ice-cream. And while Peter admits it will probably be referred to as the new snow egg, he’s confident it will impress. “It is very fragile and brittle and we ask the guests to tap it with a spoon and it just breaks apart. So there is a little bit of theatre, a bit of fun and that emphasises our new approach to the food at Quay. “We are only doing a tasting menu now, so it’s allowed me a new structure – to take the diner on a holistic journey throughout the meal. It is about interaction without being too kitschy, but still maintaining the integrity of the dishes and ingredients.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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