He has been hailed as one of the best
chefs in the world. Yet, Sydney's renowned Tetsuya Wakuda
continues to call himself "just a cook". Having
garnered a cult status in Australia, Japan and other
countries, he has remained unassuming and totally unaffected
"I feel bad when people call me a chef. I don't
think of myself as a top chef," said the culinary
maestro who was here last week for the Raffles Hotel
Wine, Food and Arts Experience to present his culinary
viewpoints at a cuisine symposium.
Having been on the gastronomic scene for about two
decades, Tetsuya has carved out a straightforward philosophy.
Simplicity is the backbone of his cuisine, and ingredients
play an essential role. "We don't try too hard
with great ingredients. I see how I can bring out firstly
the texture of the ingredient, followed by flavour and
cook it till perfection to garner 100 to 110% of the
"Yes, cooking is science in some ways, but I
don't actually see it that way," he shared. Essentially,
he bends over backwards to source for the freshest produce.
"It doesn't matter how good a cook you are; if
the produce is not great, you don't see the results.
Try to uplift the flavour and let the ingredient speaks
for itself," he advised.
Take for instance the New Zealand cold water scampi,
which he serves in his perpetually booked-out restaurant
Tetsuya's. He simply dusts ground tea leaves to enhance
the shellfish's natural flavour. "Tea has tannin
which gives an interesting taste and lifts the scampi's
sweetness." Then he adds shellfish oil, salt and
pepper and roasts it over high heat for a couple of
minutes, and voila!
Simplicity is yet again injected into his light lobster
mousse (without cream). The Japanese mastermind uses
high-speed to blend shellfish stock, lobster meat and
herbs, then add olive oil and emulsifies it till a mousse
is formed. Then he places the bowl in ice for a few
minutes to set the mousse, resulting in velvety fresh-tasting
Nowadays with the escalation in deadly food-borne illnesses,
Tetsuya is a relentless advocate of natural produce.
"We are ever more careful with food safety. We
must know where the produce comes from." He uses
natural chemical-free ingredients without antibiotics
or hormones, such as ocean trout from the pristine cold
waters of Tasmania. This apparently has become one of
the most popular fishes in Australia.
Having built strong friendships with suppliers and
farmers, Tetsuya enjoys peace of mind with the produce
he receives. Meanwhile, he continues this strong bond
with other chefs and shares suppliers' contacts with
The "people person" also said that he has
made friends with many of his customers and offers unparalleled
service to diners. "If our restaurant is full,
we recommend people to dine at another restaurant or
make bookings for them. It's important to have that
kind of good guest relations - and that's what makes
Sydney's restaurant scene really active and internationally
A jovial man who is unperturbed by his taxing hours,
how much is his personality reflected in his cuisine?
"I love my job and my business, so of course I'm
happy. I'm not a formal person. I'm always excited about
cooking and ingredients. You cook from the heart and
to make someone happy. You don't cook for someone you
don't like, but for great friends and family. It's that