A Malaysian Blog about Food, Family and Friends – by Lyrical Lemongrass
I had never tried his food, not for want of trying, but I was still nervous about meeting this man. For years we had been trying to get a reservation at his restaurant, Tetsuya’s, in Sydney, but because of our inability to commit to holiday plans, and our generally short stay in Sydney at any one time, we had always been unable to lock down a date at this restaurant. After some time, he became the elusive Chef Tetsuya to us and like most dreams, this one got pushed into the KIV folder, slowly fading into oblivion together with other bits of forgotten items.
Which brings us back to this moment. Meeting Chef Tetsuya Wakuda in person, in an intimate setting, in his restaurant in Singapore. As we slowly marched into his private kitchen and lined up against the gleaming stainless steel induction cooking block, it was quite obvious that the cocktails which we had earlier weren’t enough to shake off the nerves at meeting this illustrious man. Dutch courage is a myth.
I didn’t need to fear a thing, of course. This man had compassion in his eyes. When he smiled and talked about the simple foods that made him happy, his eyes sparkled. Chicken rice and char koay teow are his favourite local dishes, but when he is at home, what makes him happy is Italian food. A simple spaghetti with bird’s eye chilli and garlic, a heaving bowl of salad and cheese, and good company.
Chef Tetsuya’s expression for his passion for cooking is infectious; his speech picks speed and his voice takes on a pleasant lilt. ”When you eat, every sense of the body is employed. It is the same with cooking,” he tells us. ”A person learns how to cook from a cookbook, but the rest is from experience. Cooking is giving. When you like someone, you cook for that person,” he continues.
It is simple philosophy, but it makes perfect sense. I look back at my own experience, of seeing my mother work joyfully in the kitchen just to be able to feed her family, and then to my own life where I subconsciously replicate the same manner of caring with the people in my life. My eyes get watery, and it isn’t due to the billowing steam from the Alaskan king crab cooked at 230C on a base of salt with oil and water. A splash of lime juice brings out the sweetness of the meat and we nibble on it as Chef Tetsuya carries on with his stories.
“Today, if you have knowledge, say as a sommelier or as a cook, you can live anywhere in the world,” he says.
“What makes a good restaurant?” someone asks him. ”It’s the people,” he says without hesitation. ”People greet you when you enter a restaurant, and chefs cook for you. When service is good, customers return.” Waku Ghin’s chef, Sia Kok Hong, nods in agreement. ”He’s a kind boss,” the man from Malacca says shyly. ”I’ve never seen Chef Tetsuya scold anyone before.” The answer doesn’t seem rehearsed.
Chef Tetsuya helps plate the next dish. While one of the chefs grates fresh wasabi with determined concentration, Chef Tetsuya picks up a slice of lightly grilled incredibly marbled Grade A5 Kobe beef and proceeds to pile on the freshly grated wasabi on the beef followed by a dash of citrus soya sauce. ”Go ahead and eat it,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. We expect a sharp hit in our nasal passages, but are surprised with a mellow sensation instead. ”The wasabi reacts with the fat in the beef and tones down the sensation,” he explains. As expected, the dish is perfect.
As dish after dish is served to us, I begin to understand why Chef Tetsuya is well loved by his employees and his guests. Despite his fame, he has no airs and graces. Food is simply prepared with attention and care to its freshness, quality and chemistry between ingredients.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget meeting Chef Tetsuya Wakuda.
Note: Waku Ghin recently clinched 11th place on the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 list. Reservations are strongly recommended.
The Shoppes, Atrium 2, L2-02, Marina Bay Sands Singapore.
Reservations: +65 6688 8507
Kazuhiro Chii is a man of many talents.
Ask him to show you his tools, and you will agree with me.
The art of hand sculpting ice is uncommon in these parts of the world (and I mean Malaysia, not greater Asia, naturally). I watched with rapt attention as he took out a block of ice, like an unpolished diamond, and shaved it skillfully with a myriad of rather dangerous looking knives to create a perfect globe that would fit snugly into a whisky glass.
The bar at Waku Ghin in Singapore is the restaurant’s alpha and omega. This is the place to have your apéritifs and digestifs before feasting at the restaurant which was recently ranked No.11 on San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 list. And even if you are unable to secure a reservation at the much acclaimed restaurant, it is an experience in itself to sit at the bar and watch the bartenders work their magic.
Even the best chefs take inspiration from others. The idea of starting the Japanese bar came about when Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, the owner of Waku Ghin and Tetsuya’s (in Sydney), spent some time in Ginza, Tokyo in a bar called Star Bar. There, he became good friends with the owner and bartender extraordinaire, Hisashi Kishi, and after several drinks and conversations later, decided to open his own classic Japanese bar in Singapore. The style and decor of his new bar had to be elegant and muted. He wanted to be able to showcase Japanese-style cocktails and encourage a finer appreciation for the cocktails.
The best seat is at the bar, of course. This is where one can observe the skill and concentration that goes into making the perfect cocktail. Kazuhiro Chii placed a couple of bottles of alcohol – vermouth and gin – before us before he proceeded to make us a martini. What looked like a dry martini turned out to be something quite different. The first scent to tickle the senses was the heady smell of truffles. We later discovered, upon biting into our “olive”, that the olive was, in fact, a baby peach soaked in truffle oil.
Bar nibbles are not your typical nuts and crackers. Here, you can get iberico ham, caviar, oysters, cheese and other meat dishes, all worthy of Waku Ghin’s name, at prices starting from S$35++. Servings are big enough to be shared among several friends. The bar menu features 85 cocktails (and counting) from S$20++ onwards. There is also an extensive selection of sakes and whiskies.
This is the place to get a drink in an environment that encourages quiet contemplation and an appreciation for an art that deserves to be revered. And it doesn’t hurt to see that dimpled smile behind the bar as you take a sip of your cocktail and look heavenward in wonderment and gratitude for the glass of liquid happiness.
Signed, An Almost Alcoholic.
The Bar at Waku Ghin
Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8507
Open daily from 6pm until late. No reservations required.
Note: This review was at the invitation of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.
I never had a doll when I was a child. My father, having lived in severe conditions in his youth, never knew what a doll was and consequently never realised its importance in a little girl’s life. Instead, he gave me things which he craved for in his childhood. He built a library for me and my brothers, and every time he received his paycheck we made a visit to the bookshop and purchased hundreds of ringgit worth of books. Enid Blyton when I was five, engineering and mathematical solutions when I was ten, and chess endgame analyses when I was twelve. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was fourteen and found the entire collection of her writings, silverfish et al, in my school library where I spent hours on end crouched amidst the bookshelves, relishing in the musty scent that became my comfort then and in the years after.
When I received an invitation from YTL Hotels to spend a long weekend at its property, the Cameron Highlands Resort, and to participate in its activities, themed A Curious Twist In Christmas Tradition, my heretofore repressed Poirot-ish instincts were stirred. After decades of studious research (fiction only) in the art of committing (and solving) the perfect murder, I knew that my moment had arrived. We were to play a grown up role-playing game, a murder mystery game to be precise, where every guest had a part to play and the ultimate goal was to identify the murderer. And while we were running around the astoundingly beautiful property looking for clues and dead bodies, the kitchen staff and wait staff slaved laboriously to ensure that we did not go hungry or thirsty. The game went well into the night, and sadly with every passing minute, I transitioned from Poirot to Piggy. All things Christie and Marple vanished with the appearance of each sumptuous dish. I wish I could tell you the moral of the story, the point of being well informed about the intricacies of committing a murder, but I’m afraid that the only benefit I have derived from all that reading is an active imagination and little sleep.
Thank you, YTL Hotels, for allowing me to indulge in a spot of amateur acting (sans porn and with a totally contrived French accent) and for the hours of fun and camaraderie, but more importantly, for showing me that paradise exists in Cameron Highlands. The weather was less than perfect; unbearably hot one day and wet the next, but I sought cover within the walls of the resort, and while the visitors at the market were sloshing through puddles in their cheap japanese slippers smelling of mud, sweat and vegetables, I was wearing my cheap japanese slippers in the resort beside the koi pond, my tush firmly planted on a rattan chair, my left hand grasping a flute of champagne and my right, some freshly plucked strawberries with chocolate and cream.
The air is different here; the quiet pitter patter of the rain on the koi pond and the tinkling of Christmas decorations from the gentle breeze brings about a renewed sense of spirit and purpose and an assurance that everything will be alright.
Photo credit: Final seven pictures – Chelsia Ng (Thanks for letting me use them!)
Food, for me, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Food, for me, represents the love of family, the fellowship of friends, and the community and communality it brings.