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The man with arguably the toughest job during the Asia Pacific Bocuse d’Or was Jury President Tetsuya Wakuda, heading up the critical decision-making process that saw Japan, Singapore and Australia go through as winners to January’s final in Lyon, along with China and South Korea as runners-up.
Given the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award ahead of the announcement of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List 2015, Wakuda is a genuine culinary superstar in Asia Pacific, thanks to his legendary Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s, Waku Ghin at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
More than that, he’s always prepared to give advice and time to those in the industry, so was perfectly placed to judge the best talent Asia had to offer.
What was the difference today? Why did Japan win?
It was the essence of good cooking, everything was there. It’s not pushing boundaries, what they did was very classic, they just cooked absolutely perfectly. It was also simple, we could taste every flavour of each ingredient. Even the individual garnishes were so good, they all lifted the main focus of the dish, the fish or the beef. That’s all it is! All the judges were smiling, it smelt right, just perfectly cooked. I wanted to eat a whole plate, everybody was saying they wanted to finish it!
So, not a difficult decision?
They were clear winners but Singapore also did very, very well. The overall standard was very high.
How does this compare to other competitions?
Bocuse d’Or is the ultimate culinary competition. The most highly-recognised. For thirty years now it has consistently been the best. Anybody in the food industry knows it. But it’s important to remember that although this is a competition, we’re not like rivals. We’re really united, we’re brothers, that’s all it is, in a very special industry. It’s very hard for outsiders to understand how difficult and painful it is, but also very sweet and rewarding.
Jerome Bocuse said Europe needs to watch out in the global final, France and Scandinavia especially need to be careful because the level in Asia is so strong - do you agree?
Before, it used to be different between Europe and Asia, but now people there are very open about liking and understanding Asian food. We respect each other and we are united in many ways through food and friendship – not language, not politics, but food. Number one or number two, we decide who wins in the competition, but even just to be here today everybody has won, in many ways. And when you go to Lyon, wow!
What does this mean for Japan?
It’s great for Japanese cuisine. We know they can cook! I come from Japan but have been overseas for more than 30 years now and the standard there only gets better. Some of the judges were joking that I’m Japanese, with a business in Singapore, living in Australia – and Japan, Singapore and Australia came in first, second and third!
And finally, were you happy with the number of entrants from Asia?
We can always have more and make it bigger – there are never too many! Think about it, people travel to eat. The first thing you think when you go somewhere is ‘which restaurant am I going to visit?’ Not because you’re hungry, you go there for pleasure, for excitement. That’s food today. There’s so much future in it and so much opportunity for young people and cuisiniers. Maybe they’re thinking they don't know what they want to do, but there are amazing options as a chef and you can work anywhere around the world.