As he opens his first restaurant in the UAE, the man who’s held 21 Michelin stars in his career shares anecdotes with Debonair
Debonair steps into the kitchen with the master chef behind the innovative sushi craze that has taken the world by storm and originator of the Katsuya by Starck restaurants, of which Dubai boasts two
Eduan R. Maggo
What’s your earliest food memory?
My first food memory is the chirashi sushi my mother made me when I was in elementary school. She put her own twist on it just for me and made it without fish — only vegetables. It’s my go-to comfort food. There’s nothing like a meal straight out of your mum’s kitchen.
How did you enter the industry?
My mother used to have her own restaurant and I grew up surrounded by everything and anything food related. Her passion for food inspired me to follow her footsteps into becoming a chef one day — and I did it!
Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?
Because of my love for food and cooking I don’t allow this factor to make me feel any stress. I’ve felt pressure at times, but I don’t allow it to interfere with my work.
How often do you cook outside the workplace?
I like to cook for my grandchildren whenever I can; it’s usually once a week. I love to cook, it’s my passion And it gives me great joy to see such smiles on people’s faces when they are having the food I’ve prepared. It’s an amazing feeling.
What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?
Daiwa Sushi in Tsukiji, Tokyo. Every single piece of fish that I had was so fresh, which made the entire meal nothing but yum.
Conversely, what would you never eat again?
I’m quite adventurous with food and can eat almost anything, but one thing I really don’t like is a badly cooked steak. Steak is something that’s very delicate, and it needs proper cooking to be able to enjoy it.
Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home?
Yes, of course! But I don’t cook as often at home, as my lovely wife is also a great cook.
What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?
My top tip is something very simple: If you get the basics right, everything else falls in place. It’s basic things like washing your hands (super important in a Japanese restaurant!), and respecting others, keeping in mind that they’re also putting in a lot of hard work to make customers 100 per cent happy. A happy team often results in a happy customer.
What’s your one indispensable kitchen rule?
Cleanliness, cleanliness and cleanliness. Being clean is really important, especially when we’re experimenting with food. Hygiene is a top priority.
What new trends are you seeing?
I think there are some great new trends, but unfortunately some young chefs are chasing trends without basic skills. I feel that basic skills are the main key, and it should always be followed into making something bigger.
Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table?
Not a celebrity, but my support system. First would be my mother, who’s sadly not with us any more, and secondly would be my amazing staff — I couldn’t do anything without them.
If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?
Oh, I haven’t thought about this. I don’t know what I’ll choose until the time comes; it’s not something I’d like to think about in the present! Now is the time to enjoy all the food to the fullest!