Today’s Chef in the Spotlight goes by the name of Chef Q and he is the owner of a wonderful Japanese restaurant called Ishin on Old Klang Road. That’s not his real surname but everybody know him as Chef Q and he is one helluva fantastic Kaiseki Chef. So what is Kaiseki?
Well, it is actually a style of Japanese dining where a succession of small dishes are served in a formal style and the ingredients normally change with the changing seasons in Japan. The word Kaiseki also refers to the Chef’s incredible skills and techniques that are shown off in the preparation of such a finely crafted meal. Some say, the courses look more like art on a canvas rather than food on a plate. Basically, kaiseki to the Japanese, is what haute cuisine is to the west. Chef Q is a great guy. I can sit and talk to him for hours. That is, until the staff come and chase us out of the establishment because it is nearly midnight…
1. Hi Chef Q! We love your kaiseki at Ishin. Tell us, is it very difficult to create so many new and exciting dishes every single time and to keep wow-ing your guests?
Actually its not difficult to create kaiseki dishes, as every month there are new ingredients available from Japan, according to the season. The difficult part is actually remembering what you have served to your guests, so you do not repeat them again. That is why I have to keep it different every time they dine and that is the part that takes a bit more experience and skill.. most of all I have to remember their likes and dislikes. So it’s important to get feedback from them after the meal.
I carry mostly Masamoto Knives. I have 6 of them but my favourite is my Yanagi (Sashimi) Knife that cost me Rm4000 at that time. This knife is special because I bought it in a shop in Tsukiji and I actually got to pick each material that goes into the knife. It is made from virgin high carbon steel. Their knives are of the highest quality and go back 5 generations.
3. There is a popular concept of the flavour umami in Japan. Tell us why is this so, and do you believe in it?
4. When you are cooking at home, what are your favourite things to make?
Frankly I do not cook much at home although my wife wishes I would. I tend to have simple meals at home and I do cook a mean ABC Soup which my wife loves.. are you surprised that its not Japanese food!
5. What do you like most about Japan?
The Sashimi! Japan is the only place I eat sashimi besides my own restaurant because its so fresh there. I also like autumn in Japan.
6.When I was researching you on Google, I saw that you’ve always been into Japanese cuisine and only Japanese cuisine. Why is this so? Is it common for Chefs to be so loyal these days?
In Japanese Cuisine there is still so much to be learnt so that’s why I’m still learning. I feel its common to be loyal to a cuisine but not to the establishment as a lot of Chefs move to other restaurants, for a better offer.
7. Chef, how did you decide to enter into the culinary industry?
For me, I saw an opportunity to enter an industry that is exciting as well as challenging and also, it’s an industry that will not run out of job opportunities. There will always be a job waiting should you need one.
8. Was there one person who influenced your decision to become a chef?
The first Chef I worked with, shared his experiences with me when I was a kitchen helper, convinced me to stick with the industry.
9. Was all your training in restaurants or did you attend a formal culinary arts education?
My training was all in hotels and restaurants but I have worked with 7 Japanese Chef’s in my journey and I have followed one Master Chef for more then 10 years.
Be prepared to work hard and long hours and make sure you can stand the pressure. Most importantly you must have passion and be ready to start from the bottom, as that is where you learn the most.
11. Japanese knives are becoming more and more popular here in Malaysia. What would attribute this new found popularity with Japanese knives?
Good Japanese knives are hard to find in Malaysia and are hard to maintain. With the boom of so many Japanese Restaurants and the popularity of sushi and sashimi counters have flourished. This has definitely increased the visibility of these knives as customers would be able to see the Chefs using it when they dine at the restaurant.
12. What is the difference between a deba, usuba and a yanagi and how are they used?
Deba is a knife specially design for filleting fish and also to cut fish heads into two, as the blades are thicker and it separates the meat without damaging it.
Usuba is a thin bladed knife that is only used to cut vegetables especially the thin, julienned radish that you find in your sashimi. Usuba cannot be used to cut hard ingredients as it will chip or break easily.
Yanagi is a long blade knife that you see the Chefs using to cut their sashimi as the long blades are used for a single clean cut through the fish without leaving any lines on the fish.
I never fail to buy cookbooks when I travel. One of my favourite cookbooks is from Kyoto’s Kikunoi Restaurant as it’s about seasonal kaiseki.
14. Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy toward cooking? What is it you try to achieve every time you step into a kitchen?
My philosophy is, always to serve the best ingredients to your guests and do not serve them anything that you would not eat yourself. I get satisfaction when my customers enjoy their meal and that’s what I set out to achieve when I step into my kitchen.
15. Do you have a signature dish and if so, can you share one with us?
Salt grill tuna jaw.. you get to taste 3 different textures of tuna in a single dish!
16. Last question, as a chef, where would you like to see yourself 5 years from now?
I would be running the biggest single Japanese Restaurant in Malaysia in term of size, not number of outlets. As in, it will be one, huge, mother of all Japanese restaurants! My place will serving the best kaiseki in town prepared by a Malaysian Chef, i.e. ME! That is my dream, but it will come to pass. Mark my words.
A brief C.V. on Chef Q:
Chef Q trained under Chef Ando for 14 years in the art of Kaiseki Ryori and is
acclaimed to be his best protege.
1991-1994 – Tsurunoya Japanese Restaurant , Penang Mutiara Hotel
1994-1996 – Gen Japanese Restaurant , The Legend Hotel KL
Opening Team working under Chef Ando
1996-2003 – Sagano Japanese Restaurant , Rennaisance Hotel KL
Opening Team working as Sous Chef Under Chef Ando
2003-2009 – Xenri Japanese Restaurant , Old Klang Road
Setting up and running of fine dining, free standing restaurant.
2009 to date – Ishin Japanese Dining , Old Klang Road
Head Chef/Executive Chef and part owner and operator on fine dining, free standing restaurant.
No. 202, Persiaran Klang
Batu 3 3/4
Off Jalan Kelang Lama
58000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel : +60 3 7980 8228
Fax: +60 3 7981 0011
Operating hours for;
Lunch 12pm – 3pm
Dinner 6pm – 10.30pm