Scholarship winner blog: Week 3 in Tokyo

Photo: Tsukij fish markets, Tokyo, Japan

Melbourne Food and Wine’s HOSTPLUS Hospitality Scholarship winner Mark Bashinsky checks in from his final overseas kitchen: Tokyo’s renowned restaurant Ryuzu learning from Executive Chef Ryuta Iizuka.

As soon as I was on the flight and the hostess began to talk to me in Japanese, I knew Japan was going to be my biggest challenge and most exciting journey yet.

Having not much experience in Japanese culture I knew it was going to be a shock to my system. However from the very first experience of dining at Château d’ Joel Robuchon as soon as I touched down in Tokyo, I knew I would enjoy Japan.

I was privileged to stage at Ryuzu Restaurant in Roppongi with Executive ChefRyuta Iizaka who is a former Robuchon protégé. In Ryuta’s kitchen there are two key components: technique and respect. Being French trained, chef Iizaka runs a well-oiled machine at Ryuzu starting from the highest quality of ingredients possible including white Alba truffles, endless varieties of rare mushrooms and nine-score waygu sirloin and fillet.

The staff must earn their place in the kitchen. With no dish hand or cleaner in the kitchen, each staff member must continually clean and maintain all aspects of the restaurant - even ironing table cloths if chef says so. Everyone learns to respect the quality of everything that has been given to them - from machines, to inductions and handmade Japanese plates. In turn, chef Iizuka shares the same respect for his staff. He cooks lunch and dinner services every day and the staff enjoy meals of wagyu to foraged mushrooms to late-night okonomiyaki.

I always knew the language barrier would be hard, not only because I couldn’t speak Japanese, but also the different writing characters making it even harder to understand. However chef Iizuka and his team welcomed me from the moment I walked into kitchen until the French champagne was popped at the end of my last service, whether it was the after-work drinks and yakitori, or the simple effort to make conversation using Google translator! They invited me into every aspect of their kitchen from making sauces, butchery, to service and plating dishes, even introducing me to suppliers.

A highlight of my time in Tokyo has to be the Tsukij fish markets. A supplier personally took me around by cart and showed me the huge variety and quality that was available to the chefs. Even Australian salmon and sashimi-grade swordfish were on display. I was amazed at the quality and respect shown for the produce from live fish in tanks to crabs in sand. The quality, freshness and variety available was astounding.

As I sat down to my last bowl of yuzu ramen and listened to the slurping of hot noodles, I can understand why Japanese food and culture is so rich and important to people everywhere.

An amazing journey has come to an end but I have so many memories and experiences to look back on. I cannot wait to return home to share my insights with everyone. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am very grateful to everyone that made it possible.

Now it’s time to get back to the kitchen and work on some new dishes. I have just a few ideas to share…

This won’t be the last you hear from Mark – we’ll be sharing a video of his experiences so you can see first-hand what it’s like to stage in Michelin-starred kitchens across the world. Mark will also present at the Festival’s industry-only event Chef Jam supported by HOSTPLUS alongsideRodney Scott (Scott’s Bar-B-Que, Hemingway, USA) and Eric Werner (Hartwood, Tulum, Mexico), 9 March. Tickets on sale 21 November.

You might also like