Tetsuya’s: Japanese tradition combined with French cuisine available in Sydney and Singapore!
In my research while I was writing up the two-part article on El Bulli, a news item on Good Food website caught my eye. The news announced the arrival of the mighty culinary juggler, Ferran Adria of El Bulli, as a guest star at a private reception in Sydney hosted by his long-time friend and peer Tetsuya Wakuda.
I was driven by the entrepreneurial curiosity to know more about this Tetsuya Wakuda who was capable of moving the Mountain of Catalonia, Spain, Ferran Adria, across the oceans to the Content country, Australia, on the other side of the globe just for a private reception!
And I wasn’t disappointed when I Googled him. His baby smiling face makes anyone fall flat for this amazing character who grew from a mere kitchen hand in 1982 to one of the most renowned chefs the food world has ever offered to the gourmets around the world, especially those in the South Pacific.
My respect for this wonderful person grew even more when I read about the fact that it took seven years of relentless persuasion for the owners of Singapore’s $ 5.7 billion casino complex Marina Bay Sands to make Tetsuya open his ‘Waku Ghin’ restaurant, as a sister concern of Sydney Testuya’s, in their Complex. Even then Testuya had an upper-hand in the deal by demanding that only 25 diners would be served at a sitting and only two sittings would be served, totalling only 50 diners, at any meal time. That shows how principled this chef who mixed Japanese tradition with French cuisine combined with locally found ingredients is!
It also surprised me to learn that he would use fish of his choice caught only in certain spots of the sea, and at times, perhaps when he got suspicious of the quality of the fish sent to his kitchens, he would accompany the fishing boats that supply him his fish. What a dedication to the task on hand!
So, it’s no wonder, the regulars say, “…dinner at Tetsuya’s says ‘We value this relationship‘ like no other meal!”
The Birth of the legendary chef:
A legend was born when, Testuya Wakadu, a 22-year old Jap, stepped on the soil of Sydney in 1982. He did not know English, neither did he have anybody to receive him, but he had loads of love for food. His first job was as a kitchen hand at an eatery called Fishwives in Surry Hills. After a year, when he was appointed at Kinsela’s as a sushi maker by Chef Tony Bilson, he learned how to combine his seafood cooking skills with French cuisine, and this development changed this young man who was gifted with the art of grasping tricks of the trade quickly. And the cook bubbling with new ideas of cooking could not contain himself at Kinsela’s for more than a year. So, the next year, he, along with the head waiter of Kinsela’s, opened an eatery named Ultimo’s. However, Testuya wanted to be on his own to put what he believes in practice. So he broke up with his business partner, and, in 1989, set up his own restaurant, Tetsuya’s, in the suburb of Rozelle in Sydney, and in 2000 he moved his eatery to a refurbished heritage-listed site at 529, Kent Street.
And then on Testuya’s became a big name and Testuya Wakuda became a short name ‘Tets’. Food lovers who grew by hundreds and Tetsuya’s acquaintances began to fondly call him ‘Tets’.
His 10 course meal is associated with the word ‘degustation’ to mean ‘relishing’ or ‘savoring’. As there has been some discontentment in some of the regulars at Testuya’s about the more traditional menu, especially the main course the ‘Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout’ which he has been serving for 27 years, that has not given way to the modern ‘application’, Tets has loosened his grip on tradition, cutting down on the Japanese-ness and adding more popular and radical dishes to his menu.
Brand Strategy Notes:
You can right away see that Tetsuya’s brand strategy is focused on differentiation based on a very strong value proposition which is the heritage aspect and of course craftsmanship. I love brands like Tetsuya! The 10 course meal campaign is specifically targeted at audience that relish pushing the limits of what is considered natural or normal in any given service or product setting. Secondly it is also aimed to create an “exclusive club” feeling. This can be seen implemented superbly by the Fat Duck too!
The ups and downs:
What more can anyone say about Testuya’s which has won an award every year since 1992. It has not only retained its 3 hat status, which is equivalent to Michelin Stars in Europe, in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide since 1992 but also hit a hat-trick by being within the top five on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Testuya’s was named the ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide in 2008.
The other awards and titles include:
1997: Testuya’s introduced into the Hall of Fame by Restaurant & Catering Industry Association Awards.
1999: Seafood restaurant of the Year by Sydney Fish Market Seafood Awards.
2007: 5 Star Diamond Award Winner of The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
2010: Restaurant of the Year (No. 3) From Remy gourmet Traveller
2013: Master of Cuisine Award from the Japanese government. (Tetsuya was the first overseas chef to receive this award.)
2014: The Best Restaurant Award
And many more national and international ‘Best Restaurant’ awards.
Unfortunately, in 2011, Testuya’s lost its “hat” and, when there was a lot of hue and cry from Tets friends and fans, blaming the judges and the selection procedure, Tets took it cool and declared he was cooking for his food lovers but not for the hats or positions.
In Singapore, his ‘Waku Ghin’ has also bagged a good number of awards: the 2nd Best Restaurant in Asia in the ‘Miele Guide’, the first authoritative and independent annual guide to Asia’s finest restaurants; 11th Best in Asia’s Top 50; 39th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants; 67th on the Elite Traveller’s Top 100 list, along with four other Australian restaurants.
Testuya Wakuda became a Brand Ambassador of Tasmania in 1994 and is a patron of Tasmania’s Fine Arts, and the Japanese Sake Industry, the liquor industry, honored Testuya with the title ‘Sake Samurai’, or ‘Liquor Industry’s Ambassador’, in 2006 for promoting the traditions and cuisines of Japan.
Love for Tasmania:
As he finds most of the ingredients for his recipes in Tasmania, Tets has more attachment with Tasmania and Tasmanians. When he decided to have a one million dollar boat (instead of a plastic fiber-body yacht) made for him in 2011, he chose to have a wooden boat built by Tasmanian boat builders, using Tasmanian craftsmanship and products available in Tasmania, as a token of his love for Tasmania. The boat building project officials said that they were quite aware of “Tets’ passion for Tassie” and would build a boat that would make Tets happy and proud. It’s quite evident from the hundreds of Tasmanians who showed up at the boat launch ceremony that the Tasmanians also love Tets.
I became so interested in this Japanese-born legendary chef mesmerising the world with his French cuisine in Aussie and S’pore that I strongly made up mind to have a meal at Testuya’s when I visit my newly opened branch office in Sydney, which I’m planning to do whenever I get a bit of respite here at the main office. (I have just updated my to-do-list to email my business partner in Sydney to book a table at Testuya’s well in advance so as not to be disappointed on the big day.)
Brand Strategy Notes:
Again I like the strategy of associating your brand with a geographic region in a powerful way and ensuring that it is unique and attention worthy. In this case, embracing Tasmania branding is a neat way of creating some awesome PR. Secondly, brands invested in promoting Tasmania would in turn promote Tetsuya. By becoming a brand ambassador for Tasmania, Tetsuya created a bold statement.
Well… I have been so engrossed in Tets history, achievements and recipes that I am now exhausted and hungry.
So, wishing Tets all the best in finding a great alternative to his ‘Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout’ while still keeping it on the side menu for the likes of me, I’m off to have dinner with my darling wife who cooks equally great food!