It was on a push bicycle tour of Japan, with little more than a sleeping bag and his notebook, Kengo Hiromatsu decided he would become a chef.
From East to West, North to South, Kengo quite literally ate his way around his home country, taking notes as he went.
With each region having its own signature dish, he decided food was such an important part of every day life, he’d like to be a part of that.
He tried cooking school, but left before completing the degree and turned to a hands-on education instead, working his way diligently from front of house, to back of house, before returning to specialise in Japanese cuisine and get the obligatory qualification.
Kengo honed his trade in various restaurants around Japan for some 20 years before he came to Paul Mathis’ Tokyo inspired restaurant and bar, Akachochin (www.akachochin.com.au) in the newly developed South Wharf precinct of Melbourne.
It’s no surprise he was chosen for Akachochin, whose specialty sake range comprises 50 different varieties matched to the region from which dishes originate – allowing you to eat and drink you way around Japan.
From sushi to specialised Japanese dishes – you’ll find it here.
But Kengo’s top pick? The Hiramasa Namerou, or kingfish tartare .. a signature dish in east coast Japan .. and now a signature dish at Akachochin.
To speak with him you’d never know that just a matter of months ago he was living in the western part of Japan unable to speak any English.
“I like Australia, it’s actually quite similar to my home town and the people are very kind. They really like the authentic Japanese cuisine.”
So what’s this culinary sensei’s secret to cooking the best sushi?
“Don’t put it in the fridge” he says.
“It hardens the rice, changes the texture and when you put fresh fish on it, it tastes much better if it’s room temperature.”
It’s the simple things that matter, he tells me.
His other tip – pour sushi vinegar in the rice straight after cooking the rice, when it’s hot, not cold, and don’t stir it, but instead use a cutting action through the rice to separate it.
Fresh fish is imperative at Akachochin, and it’s something Kengo lives by, going to the fish markets and choosing his own fish every day.
Besides his travel epiphany to become a chef, there was another influence – his mother.
“My mother loved cooking and introduced lots of dishes to us, I have sometimes tried to make dishes like her.”
“Do you succeed?” I ask.
“No, no”, he says, “just try.”
Looking at the dishes he’s preparing for the day, I’m guessing she’d be well impressed.