Tetsuya Wakuda is generally viewed as Australia’s greatest chef.  His restaurant, Tetsuya’s has been consistently ranked amongst the top 50 restaurants in the world for at least the past eight years.  Most of that time has been in the top 10, and for several years it was in the top five.  Each year for the past 18 years it has been awarded the prestigious “Three Chef’s Hats” rating in Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

Tetsuya Wakuda is a true success story.  He arrived in Australia from Japan in 1982 with nothing more than a suitcase.  After a brief stint at Surry Hills’ Fishwives, he began working at Kinsela’s at Taylor Square making sushi, where he met Tony Bilson in 1983.  Tony nurtured Tetsuya’s inclinations to a more unique cooking style, and introduced him to the classical French techniques which he bases much of his current-day Japanese-French fusion on.

In 1989, Tetsuya opened his eponymous Tetsuya’s restaurant, but in Rozelle.  It was a tiny restaurant, with a tiny kitchen but people loved it.  In 2000 he moved to his more familiar, current location on Kent Street in Sydney.

Tetsuya’s old mentor, Tony Bilson, put on a two week long festival called Cuisine Now which brought four of Australia’s best chefs and three of Europe’s best chefs together.  Each put on a masterclass, in which the chef demonstrates to the audience how to cook several dishes in their unique style (and perhaps more importantly then taste them!).

When I heard about this, I had to go.  It was a unique opportunity that doesn’t come around often, to be seated a few metres away from one of the world’s greatest chefs while he shows you how to cook something special.  Out of the all the chefs, I chose Tetsuya, probably because I’m most familiar with him and his cooking style, even though I have never actually been to his restaurant!

Unfortunately the masterclass was held last Wednesday morning at 9:30am, which meant we had to take a half day of leave from work to attend, and we both had a hangover from dinner the night before, but these two things aside the morning was great.

There were around 100 people in the audience at Doltone House in Pyrmont, Sydney.  The tickets said that the dress was “Lounge Suit & Glamour”, which Mikey and I chose to ignore and just wear our normal summer business attire of trousers, a shirt and tie.  We were half expecting everyone to be wearing tuxedos.  Luckily for us, it appears that everyone chose to ignore the dress code.  We were perhaps the most dressed up out of everyone wearing our business clothes!

The event was MC’d by Simon Thomsen, co-editor of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

After Simon introduced Tetsuya (not that he really needed much introduction!), “Tets” got straight into cooking.

First up, he cooked several dishes using scampi tail.  One of the dishes included sprinkling finely ground Ceylon tea sprinkled over the scampi tail, amongst other things.  When we got around to tasting this, you never would have guessed it was tea on it, but it was clearly helping bring out the most amazing flavours.  He also cooked “Scampi Tail, Witlof & Citrus”, and “Scampi Three-way” which was three different scampi dishes in one.  One of the things Chef Tetsuya kept reiterating was that you should cook scampi on a very low heat.  In the oven, he said maybe 50°C-65°C, and in the end it will still look kind of translucent but will be cooked to perfection.

Next up he cooked spatchcock two different ways.  An interesting side-note first however; I recently had an argument with my general manager over what spatchcock actually is.  I was adamant that spatchcock was a baby chicken, and he was determined that it was any small bird which is cooked by splitting it open.  I researched it, and discovered that technically spatchcock isn’t necessarily a chicken.  Tetsuya however referred to it as a baby chicken.  Anyway, back to the story.

The first way he cooked spatchcock was the way that he said was “easy” and that we could do at home.  His definition of easy is however, obviously very different to mine!  He demonstrated how to cut a spatchcock correctly, which looked difficult in itself to me.  Then he put the bird, halved, into a ceramic baking dish.  He added all sorts of things, including even the liquid from tinned maraschino cherries.  He then put it in the oven, uncovered to cook.  I’ve only had spatchcock a couple of times before, but this clearly took the cake.  It was so tender, so juicy and had the most amazing flavour.

The next way he cooked spatchcock was what even Tetsuya called difficult.  It had him call one of his assistant chefs in to make it.  This assistant chef’s sole job is to make this one dish.  He has to prepare around 150 of them every day, and it involves a lot of skill.  The assistant chef cut the skin off perfectly, and then cut the spatchcock into different pieces.  He stretched out the skin he cut off, and he then took the pieces which were required, and placed them on top of the stretched skin.  He then added some sort of beef thing, and some sauce, and wrapped the skin up to form a parcel, somewhat reminiscent of a fresh spring roll.  This looked amazing; sadly though we did not get to taste this dish.  I guess this just means we’ll have to go check it out in the restaurant I guess!

The last dish that Tetsuya made was “Salad of Kingfish, black bean & orange”.  He first arranged wakame, a type of seaweed, perfectly around a large dish.  He then took a fillet of Kingfish, and with absolute precision sliced it into standard sashimi sized portions.  Just seeing him cut this fish was amazing in itself; it was akin to watching Michelangelo paint.  He placed the slices of kingfish atop the wakame, and then cooked a marinade of soy sauce, mirin, sake, garlic and ginger.  Whilst doing this, he heated a saucepan of grape seed oil.  Tetsuya said that often he much prefers using grape seed oil as it has a higher smoking point and less of an overpowering flavour as opposed to olive oil.  He then seasoned the fish with the marinade, and sprinkled black beans over it.  He then added some more salad items, and some more herbs.  He then poured the grape seed oil over the top which ever so lightly seared the kingfish.  I’m a massive fan of kingfish sashimi, and when we got to taste this it was spectacular.  Only a week ago I wrote about experiencing what was perhaps the nicest kingfish sashimi I’ve had at Kokoroya in Maroubra, Sydney, but this easily sits on that same pedestal.  I can’t really compare the two as this obviously had flavours that complemented (but not overpowered) the sashimi, which the more purist sashimi at Kokoroya did not.

Whilst I doubt I’ll ever be able to make any of the meals Tetsuya showed us, mainly due to my lack of cooking abilities, but also due to the fact that I didn’t take any notes and the recipes provided to us didn’t quite match what he actually did, I did learn several things which I will be able to take on board.

The first being that you shouldn’t try to emulate restaurant cooking at home.  This seems obvious, but too often I fall into this trap.  Tetsuya said he loves going to friend’s places in his time off and them cooking for him, and him cooking for them.  But he always likes to have all the food just placed in the middle of the table at the beginning of the meal.  The host shouldn’t have to be running around, going back and forth to the kitchen.  Meals with friends are meant to be enjoyed by all, sitting around together having a few glasses of wine and enjoying both the company and the food.

I also learnt the wonders of grape seed oil.  I used it tonight when cooking some chicken to use in a curry.  The oil didn’t smoke (i.e. burn), and it didn’t taste overly oily.

One of the more interesting things which Tetsuya brought up was his love of induction cook tops.  Mine, and I think much of the world’s belief that gas cook tops are the best and provide the most even cooking surfaces.  He threw this idea out the window, and said that gas just doesn’t keep the cookware evenly heated.  Again, it seems obvious now that he’s pointed it out, but there will always be hotter parts of the cookware where the flame is hitting.

All in all, it was a wonderful morning and has made me even more determined to actually visit Tetsuya’s one day, hopefully this year.  The food was great, but we were eating it in not the most ideal conditions (small serves on plates on our laps).  I look forward to sitting down with some friends, some nice wine and actually savouring the meal.