Hideki Hiwatashi was born in Tomakomai, a port city in Hokkaido, Japan. His interest in food developed at an early age and, like all good foodies, was inspired by equal parts curiosity and greed. One memory in particular stands out as the moment he knew he wanted to learn to cook. ‘My father took a big pot and put vegetables, chicken bones and pork bones inside to make ramen stock,' he says. 'He put it on the stove and let it cook for maybe two or three days, and the smells filling the house as it slowly cooked were very nice. I kept asking him, ‘When can I eat? When can I eat?’ – it made me interested in food and want to be a chef.’
With this ambition set in his mind, Hideki’s childhood pursuits often involved food in some way – learning from his mum in the kitchen, fishing in the river and diving for scallops and sea urchins in the sea – but the chef was under no illusions as to what the training process for chefs is like in Japan. ‘I knew that the job is incredibly hard, so I didn’t want to do it straight away,’ he says. ‘I thought I’d go somewhere first, see the world, start slowly, then come back to Hokkaido and learn cooking the traditional Japanese way.‘ He travelled a little across America and Australia before settling in Sydney, working at a sushi shop and fish market.
Hideki was offered a more permanent job in Australia but, while he had always dreamed of working abroad, the experience had made him more determined than ever to train in traditional Japanese cooking methods. ‘Even twenty, twenty-five years ago Japanese cuisine was becoming internationally popular, but it wasn’t what you’d call traditional!’ he says. ‘This made me want to learn Japanese cooking the proper way, and take those skills around the world.’
He returned to Tomakomai and spent almost three years learning the basics. With ambitions greater than Hokkaido – ‘it was a local restaurant, but not enough for me’ – he moved to Kyoto to train in the art of kaiseki cuisine, a form of Japanese fine dining where small, seasonal plates are served sequentially in the style of a tasting menu. ‘The dishes change with the seasons,’ he says. ‘Twelve times throughout the year, sometimes. Each season will have three different menus: beginning, middle and end of season, so people can enjoy each season and its ingredients.’