When I arrived home from my after-school adventures, my parents and grandparents were out working, so friends would come over and I’d cook them fried rice with onion, ham, butter, tomato sauce and egg. I used to cook this all the time and then, after a while, I changed things up.
My love of food came from my grandmother, who was the cook in our home. I was always hanging around her, and I learned from her how precious food is and how much effort it takes to grow. We had a vegetable garden filled with daikon (white radish), potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, melon, shiso (Japanese perilla) and gobo (burdock root). I used to go with her in the mornings to pick vegetables for our breakfast. Before winter arrived, we’d harvest whatever we could, then dig a hole, throw the vegies in and cover them with earth so that in the depths of winter, they’d be covered in a metre of snow with no warmth to allow them to grow. We’d then dig them up as needed. That way, we had enough for our whole family until the seasons changed and it was time to plant again.
After completing a four-year sushi apprenticeship at Ichizu in Tokyo, I left Japan in 2003 when I was 24. On arrival in Australia, I began working at Wasabi in Noosa, Queensland. The following year, I met Saké’s executive chef Shaun Presland, who, at the time, was working at Sushi-e in Sydney. I sat at the sushi bar, ate, watched him work, talked and admired the respect and understanding he had for his craft. Shaun learned the principles of Japanese food after living in Japan for two years immersed in the culture. You can’t be a cowboy with Japanese cuisine; it takes discipline, Zen and knowledge, and Shaun has it all. This is rare for an Australian and I have great respect for him. Shaun and I kept in touch and he took me on when Saké Brisbane opened in November 2010. My respect for food has followed me and is a big part of what I do here. We generate very little waste in the kitchen; we buy only what produce we need and what we don’t manage to sell in the restaurant, the staff eat. Take tuna, for example. Almost every part of the fish is used; the eyes, cheeks, brain and bones, as well as the flesh. It’s important to respect the life of fish.
Since joining Saké Restaurant & Bar, I haven’t looked back. The restaurant mirrors my values. It’s like a family and we look after one another. I cannot exist without Saké. If I’m gone tomorrow, Saké will still exist, but if Saké is gone tomorrow, I’m in trouble because it is my life.
Photography by John Reyment