First of all, tell us a bit about yourself! How did you first come to be a chef?
Sibling rivalry – my older brother was an apprentice chef before I got into cooking. He only lasted two years and I thought to myself that I can do better than that!
What’s your earliest memory of food?
It’s not the typical story of cooking with mum or a grandmother. I moved out of home when I was 15 years old and ended up cooking a lot for friends. Simple dishes like spaghetti bolognese, roasts and stir-fries, which my mates seemed to enjoy more than the food they were getting at home. That’s where I got the bug for cooking – which is still with me today! Food should be shared with family and friends to complete a wonderful experience.
Who or what has been your biggest influence in perfecting the craft (and art!) of sophisticated and modern Japanese cuisine?
I have been very fortunate to work alongside some very talented chefs. From my time as an apprentice at Sydney’s Banc to cooking alongside Nobu Matsuhisa at the starred Nobu or with David Thompson at London’s Nahm; even my time with Chase Kojima at Kiyomi has influenced what I do today.
You’ve recently overseen the launch of a new menu at Yamagen. Tell us, what can we expect?
Yamagen is not traditional Japanese food. It offers a share-style menu to be enjoyed with family and friends. The new menu features an innovative twist on traditional favourites – it’s playful. Dishes need to be interesting for me to create – and interesting for guests to eat. It’s all about quality market-fresh produce, unique Japanese ingredients, combined in new and exciting ways.
When it comes to creating new dishes, where do you draw your inspiration?
I love the lightness and delicacy of Japanese cuisine, and I really enjoy the challenge of mixing ingredients that you wouldn’t usually think of putting together – finding the perfect balance of flavours is what keeps me inspired.
Summer is here! What ingredients are you loving working with right now?
I enjoy experimenting with all kinds of ingredients and how they are used in dishes, so my menu is always evolving. One of my favourite dishes at the moment is the sakura smoked ocean trout with negi, fennel, crispy leek, ikura and lime zest. I’ve been playing around with cold smoke. By using sakura (cherry blossom) wood chips and smoking the salmon in a chilled environment, it takes on a subtle smoky flavour without cooking the meat. I’m also in the process of experimenting with a process known as kombu jime, which is typically used to cure fish, however I’m trailing it with wagyu sirloin. It’s a four day process of wrapping raw wagyu in kombu (a type of seaweed) so that it takes on the umami characteristic of the kombu. Watch this space!
What’s something you could never live without?
My wife and child. Chef life is very demanding and it’s very long hours … something I don’t feel the next generation of chefs will necessarily understand because of what they see in reality TV shows – it doesn’t just happen overnight! My wife, Yuka, was a sushi chef who worked with me, so she understands the long hours and the pressure I’m under. My son Paddington is four years old and already knows ‘Daddy is always working!’.
What words of wisdom do you live by?
Work hard, enjoy life. Good things will happen.
YOUR FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
PERK UP … Barefoot Barista and Spikexx Espresso (formerly Hendrixx)
UNWIND … Tallebudgera and Currumbin Creeks
DINE … Fire Cue. I like what they are doing with charcoal cooking
BE INSPIRED … Kisume in Melbourne – it’s from the Lucas Group behind Chin Chin. I used to work with Head Chef Shaun Presland at Sushi E and Sake Sydney who set up Kisume, so I know it will be doing some great things.