Photo portrait LHS: Not Quite Nigella
Iron Chef battles fought: 86
Iron Chef battles won: 70
Iron Chef battles lost: 15
Iron Chef battles tied: 1
LEIGH HUDSON: Hello Chef Sakai-san, I’ve often wished I could taste the dishes that you’ve created in Kitchen Stadium so it’s very exciting to receive this interview.
Last year – 2009 – you were awarded “Gendai no Meikou” – Contemporary Master Craftsman – from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan which is very impressive. You’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 45 years. Why did you originally become a chef?
IRON CHEF SAKAI: My mother raised three children including myself on her own by sewing kimono, after we lost our father in the war. She hardly had time to cook for us and I took over her role to cook for the family from about when I was a junior high student. This is when I learnt the joy of cooking. My mother always told me to have a ‘skill’ for something, too. One other factor was…one day I saw a cook from overseas travelling on a big cruising ship, at Komenotsu Harbour in Kagoshima. I longed to be like him!
HUDSON: You opened your own restaurant La Rochelle in 1980 and you now have 3 restaurants – La Rochelle in Shibuya, Minami-Aoyama and Fukuoka. You are considered the “Delacroix of French Cuisine” for your outstanding food styling and artistic food presentation. Where do you get inspiration for creating your dishes?
IRON CHEF SAKAI: Ideas often come at an unexpected moment in everyday life. I sometimes get inspired when I try cuisines from different genre like Chinese, Japanese or Italian too.
HUDSON: What is your favourite meal to cook at home?
IRON CHEF SAKAI: I do not cook at home because my wife is a very good cook.
HUDSON: How many chef knives do you have in your collection and which are your favourites?
IRON CHEF SAKAI: 50 to 60 knives. My favorite is the one I got order-made to the size of my hands.
HUDSON: Do you have any advice for young Australian chefs just starting out in the food industry?
IRON CHEF SAKAI: Always be thankful. Enjoy cooking.
Iron Chef Sakai, thank you for giving us such an insight into your culinary journey.
Next time you visit Japan, treat yourself to dinner at Iron Chef Sakai’s restaurant La Rochelle in Tokyo.