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This Japanese chef is proof that passion can get you far

Back in the '80s, he had nothing going for him except love for food. Now, he has a number of successful restaurants and deference from peers in the industry

Photo courtesy of Marina Bay Sands

Japanese-born Tetsuya Wakuda moved to Sydney in 1982. He was 22 years old then, traveling with a single suitcase and very limited English. But he didn’t let the odds dampen his spirits. Instead, he used his tremendous fervor for food to drive him in fulfilling his culinary dream.

He began as a kitchen hand and a year later was promoted to sushi chef for renowned Sydney chef Tony Bilson at Kinsela’s. Under Bilson’s tutelage, Wakuda learned classical French techniques and began to develop his own style of cooking. Today, the combination of classic methods matched with the simplicity and seasonality of Japanese cuisine is the hallmark of his cooking.

In 1989, his dream of opening his own restaurant became a reality. He opened his eponymous Tetsuya’s at a small space in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle. Eleven years later, he relocated his humble shop to its now-famous refurbished heritage site along Kent Street in the heart of the city’s business district. The venue is now designed to his specifications, complete with dining rooms overlooking an exquisite Japanese garden.

Whether it be Botan shrimp, New Zealand scampi, ocean trout, or sea urchin, Wakuda enhances his ingredients with subtle yet elegant flourishes. His food is fresh and uncomplicated, concentrating on boosting flavors and not smothering the main ingredient. “We take the best produce, do very little to them, and enhance their flavors. No more, no less,” he says.

“I see young chefs who work hard and try very hard to do their best. I am encouraged by them. If someone has a dream and a passion, if I can help, then I will help.”

In 2010, Wakuda embarked on an exciting culinary venture in Singapore.

He opened Waku Ghin located at the spectacular Marina Bay Sands complex. There, he continues to demonstrate the evolution of his cuisine with his modern, versatile European-Japanese cooking.

Waku Ghin is derived from two Japanese words: waku which means “to arise” (like water pouring forth from a hot spring) and ghin meaning “silver,” which is Wakuda’s signature color found throughout the restaurant space. In each of the establishment’s private rooms, a chef presents the season’s best produce to the guests at the Chef’s Table. “I love cooking with seafood. Eighty to 90 percent of the menu is seafood. I will use only the freshest produce and ingredients every time.” Depending on the time of the year, it may include signatures such as the marinated Botan shrimp with sea urchin and caviar, and Wagyu with wasabi and citrus soy. Guests are then escorted to the main dining room for dessert and coffee while soaking in the sensational views of the Singapore skyline.

His newest endeavor, Patisserie Platine, was inspired by one of his young chefs who showed tremendous passion for pastry. “I see young chefs who work hard and try very hard to do their best. I am encouraged by them. If someone has a dream and a passion, if I can help, then I will help.”

“Creating a second concept comes after much thought,” he says. “Over the years, guests have told us that they love our desserts and want more. Seeing how our cakes were sold out daily during last year’s Epicurean Market gave us the confidence to venture into this new area.”

Patisserie Platine at Rise Lounge offers 18 types of intricate pastries and petit cakes, with each component made in house, using premium ingredients and fresh seasonal fruits from Japan and Europe. It is built on the success of Waku Ghin. “Creating a second concept comes after much thought,” he says. “Over the years, guests have told us that they love our desserts and want more. Seeing how our cakes were sold out daily during last year’s Epicurean Market gave us the confidence to venture into this new area. It provides our talented pastry team another platform to showcase their immense creativity and passion.”

These days, Wakuda divides his time equally between Sydney and Singapore. Having restaurants in these two cosmopolitan cities leaves little time for him to relax. But whenever he finds moments to spare, he drives his boat to the Sydney Harbor and spends a few days fishing. “I love to go fishing and boating. A few years ago, I built a modern wooden timbre boat in Tasmania. As for fishing, if I could do that every day, I would, but I am too busy with work to set time aside for my hobby,” the timid chef reveals. “Whenever I’m in Singapore, I love to go around to enjoy some local food. One of my favorite eateries is the Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh.”

From migrating to Australia with barely anything to becoming one of the world’s most respected chefs who has practically everything he could ever want, Wakuda has definitely come a long way. But while many things have changed, one that has remained constant, up to this day, is his relentless love for food.

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