The Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony saluted Tetsuya Wakuda with the Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award - Asia 2015. Tetsuya's name alone inspires respect for what he has done to modern Japanese cuisine on an international level, expertly combining the best seasonal produce with French techniques and ingredients to strike a delicate balance between both cuisines.
I had the extreme privilege of being invited to meet with Chef Tetsuya at his Singapore restaurant Waku Ghin, for dinner and a peek inside his kitchen.
The gentle and soft spoken chef remains as down-to-earth as ever. He smiles almost sheepishly as he says, "This kind of award is usually given to someone who has put in many years and is ready to retire. But I am not ready to retire yet."
Tetsuya spoke about his passions, hopes and what inspires him - it was insightful to hear the chef elaborate on what is important for young chefs. I condensed that into a feature on Yahoo Makanation.
But seeing the Waku Ghin kitchen at Marina Bay Sands was an adventure in itself. This is where the culinary magic begins.
The meticulously clean kitchen is stunning and orderly, as can be expected.
These look like industrial grade induction burners. It seems they do not use gas here.
There's a charcoal grill though, which is just fantastic especially for sumiyaki items (you'll see one in the dinner photos later).
The pastry section where lovely confections come to life is in a separate area from the cooking kitchen.
At Waku Ghin, the dining areas are all divided into four private little alcoves that seat about five to six persons. This is the largest one at the back with probably up to eight seats. At any one time, there are no more than 25 covers. You have one chef dedicated to the entire session for dinner, and then you adjourn to a special area for dessert.
Let's take a look at the 10-course degustation menu. This is my third time dining here, and the signature items remain the same but other dishes may rotate.
We started with some Gillardeau oysters, dressed in a killer ponzu dressing.
As usual the chef will present the day's seafood bounty in an amazing display - this includes Hokkaido uni, Tasmania abalone, and Canadian lobster.
Tuna carpaccio with endives
The small bitter salad is a pleasant crunchy accompaniment to the smooth tuna.
Marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin from Hokkaido and Oscietra Caviar
This is the one dish that is most recognisably Tetsuya's creation. The decadent triumvirate is nothing short of sublime; every bite is a creamy burst of tastebud bliss.
Slow Cooked Amadai with Black Truffle
I loved the way they did the amadai (tile fish). Sweet, warm, tender flesh doused with a super savoury broth topped most generously with earthy truffle shavings.
Steamed Alaskan King Crab with Lemon-scented Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Every dish is cooked or finished off at the iron griddle in front of the diners. It's a lovely way to whet the appetite as you see your food being prepared. These king crab legs get a high heat salt bake and steam bath that just brings their best flavours.
Tasmania Abalone with Fregola and Tomato
Another stellar dish which will even have people who usually don't like abalone (like me) raving. It's not easy to cook abalone right, but they nail it each time. The succulent and tender, only lightly chewy (not rubbery). The fregola pasta and fresh cherry tomatoes from France make a nice base.
You'll see that chef uses quite a bit of ingredients from Tasmania. He was searching for great produce and fell in love with what Tasmania had to offer.
Braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon
This also seem to be a regular dish and it always packs an umami punch. The gravy is so good, you'll want to mop it all up. And they thoughtfully provide a small bread roll for you to do so.
I love breads and this is probably one of the most delicious rolls ever, with the thin and crisp exterior hugging the soft bread within.
Charcoal Grilled Fillet of Tasmanian Grass-fed Beef with Tetsuya's Wasabi Mustard
This (highly coveted!) Cape Grim wagyu beef tenderloin is not always on the menu, but when it is, oh count yourself lucky! The beef is first charcoal broiled sumiyaki-style, and finished off on the griddle with soy and mirin giving it a caramelised glaze.
And it looks like we have not one, but two beef dishes tonight. Look at the marbling of that A5 Japanese Ohmi wagyu. It's from Shiga prefecture. It only needs a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Our chef was Chris. We learned that they train about six months to a year before graduating to serve at the tables. And not all of them make it, because you not only have to be able to cook, you have to be able to engage the guests in conversation, and answer any questions they have. They truly are amazing. In all my three visits, I have never seen any chef get stumped. In fact, they are able to elaborate in fascinating detail about ingredients, so it becomes a great learning experience too. It's so refreshing to feed your mind as well!
Japanese Ohmi Wagyu Roll with Wasabi and Citrus Soy
The beef is just lightly seared on the outside. You get to play with different flavour combinations - scallions, ponzu, wasabi, and garlic chips (I love these).
The Tasmanian wasabi we learned is cultivated by Tetsuya.
Chris also tells us more about why sharkskin graters for wasabi are preferred. Metal graters tend to tear the fibers and makes the wasabi more pungent. Plus it oxidizes faster with exposure to metal. Also, it is better to grate using circular movements rather than a straight up-and-down pattern.
I'm just agog at the size of the wasabi roots!
More decadence. There's almost as much truffle as there is rice. What a gorgeous mouthful of silken rice that's absorbed seriously good stock.
Gyukuro tea from Kyoto
Before dessert, we are served an exquisite green tea.
Gyukuro tea is special in that during the last two weeks of fermentation, it is covered from the sun so that it releases tannins that taste like seaweed. The young leaves are laid out to dry in sunlight, and not oven-baked in oven. This particular blend is made specially for the restaurant. Too bad they don't sell it, but it seems Takashimaya has other brands of Gyukuro tea available.
After the eighth course, we head to the area at the back for dessert. The full wall of glass windows facing the Marina Bay makes a breathtaking backdrop.
The highly prized Japanese musk melon as palate cleanser. Ambrosial with so many layers of fragrant aromas. This was almost my favourite item on the menu. I felt myself healing and detoxifying just eating this.
Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla and Macadamia, coated with a high gloss ganache. Stunning dessert. I'm pretty picky about chocolate, but this one blows my mind every time.
If you still have room, the petit four and chocolate truffles along with coffee or tea are the perfect sweet ending to the much lauded Waku Ghin dining experience.
We also had wines paired with the dishes throughout the dinner. I did not drink, so I forgot to note which wine went with which dish.
N.V. Billecart-Salmon Rose Brut
Masuizumi Platinum Nama for Tetsuya's
2010 Pierro Chardonnay Special for Tetsuya Margaret River Australian
2008 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
2011 Josefina Piñol Grenache Blanc Terra Alta, Spain
Check out my story on Yahoo too.
I love how Tetsuya underlines for chefs the importance of being grounded by a passion for eating. Cooking you can learn from anywhere, but your own palate is something only you can develop yourself.
Waku Ghin itself is ranked no.9 on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2015.
Level 2-01, Atrium 2
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956
Open daily for dinner
Two Seatings 5:30pm + 8:00pm
10-course degustation menu
Tel: +65 6688 8507
The Bar at Waku Ghin
5:30pm till late (Last order 1:30am)
(No reservations required for the bar.)
Heartfelt thanks to Chef Tetsuya and the Waku Ghin team for their hospitality, and to Diners Club International and GolinHarris for the invitation