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Hideki Hiwatashi

Hideki Hiwatashi

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Chef training in Japan is extremely thorough, and Hideki spent thirteen years at the prestigious Kikunoi Roan under Yoshihiro Murata working his way through the ranks and, as the Japanese kitchen structure dictates, from the kitchen to the public arena of the restaurant. ‘There’s a kitchen in the restaurant as well as at the back in most kaiseki restaurants,’ Hideki explains. ‘A young chef starts learning in the kitchen before moving up to ‘the front’ in the restaurant. Here you have to cook and serve food as well as speak to customers, so during your training you’re not just learning cooking but lots of skills.’

For a Japanese chef, then, knowing how to speak to customers is as important as the cooking – although a chef will have to be prepared to do both at once. ‘The customer will always be asking questions about how you make things or how they’re served, so you need to remember all these things – ‘why are you using this? Why this sauce? Why is this tasty?’ – and respond properly,’ he says. ‘It’s distracting, but that’s why the training takes so long; it takes at least five years to train properly and younger chefs are kept back from the open kitchen in the restaurant until they’ve learned these skills.’ This degree of training explains a lot about Hideki himself, who comes across as an incredibly kind, friendly and mild-mannered man – even with a Great British Chefs recipe editor quizzing him incessantly on garnishes as he plated up several dishes of beautifully presented food.

Hideki remained at Roan Kikunoi until 2010, seeing the restaurant gain two Michelin stars during his tenure as head chef. He left Japan that year and moved to London to set up Sake no Hana, Hakkasan Group's Japanese fine-dining restaurant. Now executive chef, Hideki develops most aspects of the menu himself, finding a balance between showcasing traditional Japanese flavours and those touches of luxury fans of Hakkasan have come to expect – Wagyu beef sashimi comes topped with sea urchin and caviar, while a silvery gold piece of Chilean sea bass comes drenched in a rich Champagne yuzu miso sauce. ‘I did look a little at the existing Hakkasan menus for some ideas,’ he says. ‘I saw the Champagne cod there and tried it in the Chilean sea bass dish instead of sake, but I also used sweet miso for the sauce. Sweet miso is a speciality miso from Kyoto – in Japan it’s considered a luxury ingredient too, so it works. As for the caviar and truffle on things... well, I can’t ignore them in this country!’


Three things you should know

Hideki holds a fugu licence, enabling him to prepare and serve the legendary pufferfish in Japan (the fish is banned in the UK). If prepared incorrectly fugu can be poisonous so it’s no surprise that the training is incredibly rigorous – it normally takes a chef three years before he can sit a timed preparation exam under the watchful eye of three judges.
As part of his training at Kikunoi Roan Hideki spent time with the restaurant’s fishmongers learning to catch and kill the fish. Similarly, it’s common practice in Japanese culinary training for young chefs to be sent to farms and suppliers to learn about feeding and killing animals and growing vegetables, giving the chefs more respect for the produce they handle in the kitchen.
Hideki’s top tip for preparing sushi at home is a very, very sharp knife – ideally a long bladed sashimi bōchō. The fish, too, must be of excellent quality and handled carefully: ‘treat the fish nicely, like a baby!’ says the chef.