Nine teams, six intense weeks of preparation, five and half hours of cooking and one winner. Kotaro Hasegawa defied the odds and the numbers to be crowned the gold medal winner at this year’s prestigious Bocuse d’Or Asia Pacific final, held in Singapore and sponsored by S.Pellegrino.
The young chef, heading up operations at Japan’s Hiramatsu Group, triumphed with a suite of dishes and garnishes that celebrated perfect execution over innovation, classic technique over taking risks with flavours and presentations. It was, according to Jury President Tetsuya Wakuda, a near flawless display of cooking that left all the judges wanting more.
The importance of the team
As Japanese fans and friends waved flags and banners of support at final awards ceremony, Hasegawa proudly took centre stage on the top podium. He was modest and humble when I spoke to him about his remarkable achievement. Speaking in fluent French, with a distinctly southern accent, he explained his reaction:
‘It’s due to good luck and my amazing team, including my commis Tomoya Tashiro and coach. I didn’t win this alone, the whole team did, everyone helped me. So we won, not me!”
He explained the challenges faced in the final: “It was the first time I’d ever tasted or cooked toothfish, so it was really difficult! Also it had been frozen, not something we’re used to preparing in Japan, which made it tricky to marinate it, so we tried lots of ways. The beef was also completely different from Japan where it’s a lot fattier, but we had trained extensively on the dish. The timing and cook on it was critical”
As to the opposition, the other eight teams, he was magnanimous in victory: “It’s really pleasing to see the quality around, little by little we in Asia are matching the rest of the world.”
Next step: Bocuse d'Or World final in Lyon
He will next head to Lyon for January’s global final, to be joined by two ‘passport entries’ from China and South Korea. There he’ll face off against twenty-four teams from around the world, the cream of global culinary talent. He’s clear on the reality check it may provide: “No team from Asia has ever won it. Japan was third a few years ago. Maybe Asia can come second or even first. Why not?!”
Most of all, however, he's looking ahead: “I’m relieved it’s over! I’ll have a little bit of a rest, then start to focus on Lyon.”
Given his stunning success in Singapore, you get the impression he can’t wait to get there. The other teams should keep a very close eye on this fast-rising but modest global star.