Master restaurateur Tetsuya gives Steve Madgwick a masterclass in simple cooking and deadpan comedy at the Sticky Rice Cooking School in the Adelaide Hills.
“You must like cooking for a person, otherwise you might slip something into their food,” says Tetsuya Wakuda, with a straight face.
Holding the drama for a few seconds, a cheeky grin spreads across his face.
The lesson is supposed to be in simple food and “a lazy ways to entertain people” but it turns into a masterclass in subtle comedy. Tetsuya, whose restaurant has been ranked in the top five in the world, flits between earnest foodie advice and deadpan one-liners.
He prepares a host of dishes over a few hours, including a “tagine for lazy people” with strong Moroccan flavours, baked barramundi with roast fennel, and wagyu steak straight from the fridge to the pan to the oven. Simple field mushrooms are the highlight – delectable.
Tetsuya’s flavours obviously borrow heavily from his Japanese heritage: mirin, soy and even the ubiquitous sweet chilli sauce.
But he is equally true to his classical French training that he received under Tony Bilson’s at Kinsela’s, back in the eighties. The main lesson: You can never have enough butter.
In fact, “using olive oil is an option, but butter in your food is not an option – it’s a must”, he says.
This becomes obvious as he prepares the remainder of the dishes, especially ‘special’ scrambled eggs, with creamed corn for texture and flavour.
Apparently, scrambled eggs are “not just a breakfast option”.
No certainly not, especially when ingredients such as truffle salt find their way into the dish. A subtle fusion – just like the man himself.
Two minutes with Tetsuya
Q: Which of your world travels has most affected your food?
Visiting Italy, as I admire the cuisine and their attitude to it. They respect the seasons and have a wonderfully ingredient-driven cuisine.
Q: If you weren’t a successful chef, what else would you be?
I’d be a fisherman.
Q: What was your most dominant impression of Australia when you arrived back in 1982?
I couldn’t understand the strong Australian accent.
Q: Since you first opened Tetsuya’s, what is the biggest change to the Australian restaurant culture?
People are more open and adventurous. I think they are more willing to try new foods.
Q: What makes a good dish?
Good ingredients treated with respect.
Q: Favourite all-time ingredient?
Himalayan pink salt.
Q: What makes a great Japanese whisky (he’s a big fan)? Better than Scottish whisky?
The water makes the difference – it’s not better, just different. Also, you have to remember the Japanese learnt to make whisky from the Scots. You can’t forget that.
Q: How did it feel when you first found out you were in the top 5 restaurants in the world?
I was so proud of my team.
Q: What is your favourite holiday destination in Australia?
Q: Somewhere in Australia that you’ve always wanted to go to but haven’t (yet)?
Q: Is food fashion? If so, what is the next?
I don’t follow fashion at all. We look for good ingredients of the freshest and highest quality available and go from there.
Q: Your greatest vice?
I do eat too much.
Q: Do you miss Japan– will you ever return?
I go back often and always enjoy myself, but my home is always in Australia.
Q: What’s next? Any new restaurants on the horizon?
Tetsuya is now a brand ambassador for Electrolux Australia of which Steve was an invited guest.