Iron Chefs Rokusaburo Michiba, Kenichi Chen, Hiroyuki Sakai and Masahiko Kobe reunited in Sydney over the weekend, cooking side by side at the Sydney Opera House to raise funds for Opportunity International Australia. It was their first on stage reunion in almost 20 years, after Iron Chef, one of the most popular TV cooking series in the world, finished in Japan.
They were joined by Michelin star chef Kentaro Chen from Shisen Hanten and Asia’s Top Pastry Chef Janice Wong from 2am Dessert Bar / Cobo House. Although this occasion is special for everyone involved, it is even more so so for the oldest Iron Chef, Michiba, who turns 87 soon. This was the first time Michiba cooked in Australia and could well be the last time he cooks outside Japan. We spoke to the four as they prepared for last weekend's big event.
Japanese cuisine chef Rokusaburo Michiba
This is apparently the last ever time you will cook outside Japan. What are you making?
I brought Japanese bowls from Japan for the dinner. They come with a lid. I like them because not only do they play an important part in Japanese cuisine but they also give guests a nice aroma and a bit of surprise ‘wow’ element when they open the lid. For my dish, I will create a one-bowl appetiser dish, using seven Australian local ingredients and mixing them with Japanese miso. I would call this ‘the world’s first wan-mori –zensai (appetiser served in a Japanese bowl)’.
Everything I had in Sydney is delicious. I keep thinking, what I can do to satisfy Australian guests who have a discriminating palate? I would like to use Australian ingredients and Japanese fermented food, which is very important in Japanese cuisine, such as miso, soy sauce and sake, to create a joint dish between Australia and Japan.
What is your secret weapon in the kitchen?
Actually, for me, cheese is a special ingredient. Maybe I was the first one to start using cheese for miso soups, like, 30 or 40 years ago. Cheese and miso are both fermented food so they go well with each other.
How has life changed for you after Iron Chef?
When I started on the show, I was 63 years old. Being on the show was big publicity without a doubt and that made me and my restaurant more well-known. Even after 20 years, people recognise me on the street. I have lots of fans and most of them are older ladies. Seeing how happy they are to see me makes me humble and thankful. Being on the show was a great experience for me and I am so grateful for the opportunity and support I have got.
Italian cuisine chef Masahiko Kobe
What is your secret weapon in the kitchen?
My passion, definitely. I think caring for both your guests and food ingredients sincerely and trying to cook better each time is important. If you have good ingredients, almost anyone can cook a delicious dish. But the difference between an ordinary cook and us is whether you have that passion or not. Only chefs with the passion can make the most of each ingredient and even reveal the hidden potential of it.
You are known as the 'Prince of Pasta'. What's the most interesting pasta you have created on Iron Chef?
The most unforgettable one is the Torofie (a short, thin, twisted pasta) I made from scratch for my first face-off on Iron Chef. I blended chocolate into the dough and made black Torofie. I was so nervous and blanked out that I made black pasta.
In Sydney, I can’t make the black Torofie as we don’t have enough time to prepare it for 250 guests but instead, I would like to make pasta which has some elements of my home prefecture, Yamanashi. In Yamanashi, we have a popular regional dish called Hoto. Hoto is udon noodles in miso soup with vegetables, such as pumpkin. I will serve Hoto-inspired handmade pasta hidden under pumpkin as a side dish.
Michelin star Chinese cuisine chef Kentaro Chen
Is it difficult to cook with Kenichi Chen, your father, side by side?
We cook together at our restaurant and for events frequently. I enjoy cooking with him and he is my mentor as well. However, I feel a bit nervous this time because I’m going to cook with three other legendary Iron Chefs. I feel very honoured and excited.
What made you follow in your father’s footsteps?
I grew up watching Iron Chef. My father was on the show but my favourite cuisine was French and I was a big fan of Mr. Sakai. I even learned French at uni. When I was 20 years old, I had an opportunity to see the special Iron Chef cook-off between Mr. Sakai and my father, live in a TV studio. I was moved by my father’s cooking and decided to become a Chinese cuisine chef.