7 Things to Know About Chef Tetsuya Wakuda

chef Tetsuya Wakuda

Last week, Chef Tetsuya Wakuda was announced as the 2015 recipient of the Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award for Asia. While his two award-winning restaurants, more than 30 years of excellence in the industry and mouth-watering creations speak for themselves, what impresses us most about this Japanese-born transplant to Australia is what drives him: A pure passion for eating, cooking and sharing good food.

It’s clear that this motivation has served him well. Between Tetsuya’s, his restaurant in Sydney, and Waku Ghin, which opened in Singapore in 2010, Wakuda’s dining establishments have been on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 10 times between 2002 and 2014.

Keep reading to learn more about how this talented chef got to where he is today:

1. He moved to Australia without much knowledge of the country.
Wakuda moved to Australia in his early 20s and says he didn’t know very much about the country—only that it was home to kangaroos and koalas. In the introduction to his 2004 cookbook, Tetsuya: Recipes From Australia’s Most Acclaimed Chef, Tetsuya says he had dreamt of living overseas since he was a child growing up in Hamamatsu, a town in the prefecture of Shizuoka, which is southwest of Tokyo. When he left for Australia in 1982, he was eager to experience life outside of Japan and to learn English. Little did he know that he’d find his calling there as well.

2. He’s reached gastronomic greatness without formal culinary training.
Wakuda’s first job in Australia was as a dishwasher in a restaurant called Fishwives, where he soon was tasked with cleaning and preparing fish. Not long after that, a local star chef, Tony Bilson — now referred to as “the godfather of Australian cuisine,” — asked Wakuda if he would make sushi in his Sydney restaurant, Kinsela’s. Though Wakuda had never before prepared – or trained in preparing – sushi, he said yes.  The chef credits his time at Kinsela’s as the period where he first learned French cooking techniques and where “I realized I wanted to, and discovered that I could, cook… I made up a lot of things along the way, and luckily for me, people liked the way it tasted.”

3. He listens to his customers.
In a 2012 interview with a Korean TV show, Tetsuya shared advice that he had received when he was 27 and running his first restaurant after leaving Kinsela’s in 1983. One day, one of Wakuda’s regular customers asked why he always seemed happy even though the restaurant wasn’t very busy. Tetsuya responded that he liked doing it, and that he was appreciative of the man for coming in regularly. The man told Tetsuya: “Young man, believe in what you do, and if you enjoy it, keep doing it. Fame, money and reputation will follow you. But if you chase these things, they run away.”

4. He has had a life-long love affair with seafood.
Some of the chef’s most acclaimed dishes involve seafood, from Waku Ghin’s Marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Caviar to Tetsuya’s Confit of Ocean Trout with a salad of celery, witlof, apple and unpasteurized ocean trout roe. Wakuda has said that his love of food and fishing started at a young age in his hometown in Japan, where he would fish in the local salt lake then bring the bulk of his catch to a local restaurant to be fried tempura-style.

tetsuya wakuda ocean trout

Chef Wakuda selecting ocean trout in Tasmania, Australia.

5. He was the first “Sake Samurai” of Australia.
Wakuda’s love of sake and his contribution to introducing the beverage to Australia earned him the distinction of “Sake Samurai” in 2006. According to the website of the title-granting organization, the Sake Samurai Association exists as a “junior council for the Japan Sake Brewers Association to protect sake and Japanese traditions at home and to promote them internationally.” Wakuda is now one of just two Australians to have earned the title.

6. He is celebrated by other trailblazing chefs.
In the foreword to Tetsuya’s cookbook, Trotter recounted the first time he met the Japanese chef and tasted his food. “Since that day,” he wrote, “my life has been touched by this amazing man and his utterly poetic cuisine… I revel in his company. His peacefulness and calm have had an immensely positive effect on my approach to life and cooking. He is one of the few chefs I know whose way of being is completely in harmony with his cuisine. In both there is clarity, wholesomeness, and balance.”

Trotter put Tetsuya in a category with Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Ferran Adrià and Thomas Keller as a chef who “has influenced other chefs through their personal styles and unique approaches to food. His culinary philosophy centers on pure, clean flavors that are decisive, yet completely refined.”

7. To him, cooking is an act of giving.
As is common among chefs, Wakuda said in a 2009 interview with an Australian TV show that he never cooks for just himself at home, preferring to go out to a restaurant or have guests over. The reason? He sees cooking as an act of giving. As he wrote in the introduction to his cookbook: “For me, good food comes about only if you put yourself in it. Food is for giving, and the act of cooking is a gift from the cook to the diner… I want all my guests and readers to feel welcome. The restaurant is my home, and when people walk in, they can have whatever they want. People come to restaurants for a treat, and when it’s my treat, you can have what you like.”

Chef Wakuda will receive his Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award in person on March 9 at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in Singapore. Readers can follow the action on Twitter and Instagram via the hashtag #Asias50Best.

Read More: Chef Tetsuya Wakuda Wins Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award