Culinary “sensei” reveals secret to great sushi


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 ( 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.

Featured post

IFWTWA Australasia launches Travel Writers radio show

ifwtwaAUST-smlsqThe International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a global network of journalists who cover the hospitality and lifestyle fields, today launched the Travel Writers radio show, an initiative of IFWTWA’s Australasia division.
The program will be heard on Melbourne’s newest FM station J-AIR and via the Internet to a mobile and a global audience (  J-AIR is a community-based broadcaster with a narrowcast commercial FM licence to transmit for 10 km around Caulfield to a potential audience of almost one million people.  J-AIR has been broadcasting via the Internet for 18 months, but its FM signal is expected to be live later this month at 87.8 FM. The Travel Writers radio show airs Wednesdays at 1pm (AEST), hosted by industry veterans, Graeme Kemlo and Peter Watson.
Announcing the move, IFWTWA Australasia chair, Graeme Kemlo, said the program covering both leisure and business travel topics as well as culinary and wine tourism.
“It is designed to entertain, inform and inspire”.  It features IFWTWA members from across its global membership base reporting the latest travel news, interviews, travel tips, reviews of destinations, food, wine and unique experiences for travellers around the world, or around the corner in Australia’s cities and regions.
“We have a wonderful network of experienced travellers who cover the globe in words and pictures and will provide first-hand accounts of their adventures.  It will be a collaborative effort co-ordinated from Melbourne with reporting by members across Australia, South East Asia, the South Pacific, United States, Canada and Europe,” Graeme said.
“The ‘wireless’, as we once described it, is a wonderful medium that allows a listener to dream of exotic locations and aspirational experiences.  So, alongside the expertise of our writers in food, wine and travel – many have their own columns, travel apps, books, websites and blogs – we’ll supplement their radio reportage with information and images posted to the IFWTWA website ( and the blog – foodwinetraveltips,” he said.
Peter Watson, who spent many years as a senior executive in the Australian travel industry, said the program was also designed to lift the veil on the industry for travel consumers and would cover topics such as: should you book everything on the Net; how far out should you buy an air ticket/ hotel/cruise; how (not) to get an upgrade; travel health; the best travel technology; how to identify and avoid travel scams; should you believe online hotel reviews; and how to choose from the myriad of travel money options.

Here’s a link to the podcast of the first episode –

– Graeme Kemlo

Garuda Golden Chefs

The Garuda Mystery Box
The Garuda Mystery Box

Have you ever eaten, or more correctly sampled, nine separate two course meals,  prepared by some of our best chefs, over nine hours.  I can tell you its both a challenge, tasting so much great food, over an extended period; and an genuine educational experience, one that gives you a small insight into the behind the scenes action in the kitchens of some of our finest restaurants and the skill of our top chefs.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I did just that, when I rocked up to the Comcater offices in South Melbourne early on a Monday morning.  Comcater, who are major sponsors of the prestigious Golden Plate Awards had provided their stunning kitchen complex as the venue to host the Garuda Indonesia – Chef of the Year cook off for the 2013 awards and I was one of the judges.

Nine chefs had qualified for the cook off, three from each of the regions (Ballarat-Daylesford; Greater Bendigo and Geelong-Otway) in which the awards are contested.  First each chef received a nomination from the two judges who judged their restaurant during the course of the competition, and then all those nominees received further consideration from the full judging panel.

Each chef arrived at the venue aware of the challenge ahead, which was the Garuda Mystery Box, but of course without any idea of the contents of that ‘mystery’ box.  Everyone had 45 minutes prep time and a further 45 minutes cooking time to prepare an entree and main course that was then judged and scored by our panel of four judges; which was lead by industry legend Rita Erlich.

Salmon on Pumpkin and Ginger Puree
Salmon on Pumpkin and Ginger Puree

Chef Richard Mee from Mercato (Daylesford) started us off with an entree of duck and a main course of salmon, and he turned out to be the odd man out for the day as everyone else went the other way.  Over the course of the next nine hours we watched as chefs chopped and diced, carved and sliced, blended and pureed, roasted and sous-vied; and then delivered nine delicious meals to our judges table.

Two plates for each course was the order of the day, so consistency (between the two) was important and the variety of colours, styles, tastes and textures was amazing.  After our fourth or was it fifth main course of duck, a line from an episode of that immortal show ‘Fawlty Towers’ popped unprompted into my brain, I confess that it stayed there for the rest of the day.

The episode is called Gourmet Night and the line offered by one of the guests after (as usual) everything has gone wrong is:-”so it’s just the duck then Fawlty”? to which Basil replies “yes Major but duck done three extremely different ways”!  You may recall that on offer that night was duck with cherries, duck with orange and duck surprise; which prompted this question: “and pray what is duck surprise Fawlty”? – and this response: “that’s duck without orange or cherries Major”!

Well none of our ducks had cherries though a couple did have orange, but all of our chefs delivered plenty of surprises in their wide and varied presentation of both the duck and the salmon.

Duck Anyone
Duck Anyone

We judges had our work cut out for us picking our regional winners from which would emerge our overall champion, who will be crowned the Garuda Indonesia – Golden Plate Awards – Chef of the Year.  Who is it – you will just have to wait until November 11th when the announcement is made and the prize presented at a gala evening in Geelong.

A secret between you, me and (shortly) most of Melbourne

You’d be forgiven for thinking the country was awash in autumn food and wine festivals.  And you’d be right.  Image

But there are still some gems to be discovered amongst the offerings from quiet country towns in regional Victoria.  Take Warburton for example:  it is home to one of the best kept food and accommodation secrets – Oscar’s, recently reborn beside the Yarra River with sparkling accommodation for 40, glamorous public spaces, enormous century-old oak trees, an actual babbling brook river frontage, and a star in the kitchen!

I was there with some other IFWTWA writers to have an exclusive preview of the Yarra Valley Food & Wine Festival.  And from the first sip of the opening dish the chef had me. We dined on THE best Tom Kha I’ve ever tasted full stop. And having worked in Thailand over the past 15 years, and been feted around the Kingdom, I have swallowed my share of the delicious coconut and galangal soup, with and without chicken.  Outside of Thailand the problem with most attempts at this Siamese staple is the lack of young coconut flesh, instead substituted by coconut cream in cans.  The reason for the subtle yet distinct flavour balance Oscar’s executive chef, Mark Krueger achieves is soon revealed.

He spent the past eight years in Koh Samui Thailand and the Maldives, but his classical training includes time in a Bocuse kitchen. Image

Mark calls his style “Meditterasian” – and his Tom Kha delivered wonderful flavours enhanced by unexpected elements such as sundried tomato.  Another of Mark’s signature dishes, seared salmon featured tomato and basil hummus, crisp fried capers, smoked olive powder and bell pepper pannacotta.

By the time you read this the restaurant at Oscar’s may be taking bookings from an unsuspecting public – my suggestion is get in there before everyone’s talking about Mark’s culinary skill and you can’t get a seat (or a bed overnight should you indulge in one too many)

The other reason you might want to visit the festival in Yarra Valley, starting this Thursday April 11 through 14, is that the local winemakers predict the current vintage will be “spectacular in both still and sparkling” – a quote from Dan Buckle of Chandon who also said the local pinot was “deep in colour…smells fantastic”. Punt Road winemaker Kate Goodwin said that although grape quantities might be down 35-40%, the concentrated wines that resulted were fantastic and 2013 would be a stellar year for pinot and chardonnay – “the grape quality is so good we are trying to do more with the grapes themselves.”

Kate encourages visitors to cellar doors to speak up about what they like.  “I meet a lot of customers who say, ‘I know nothing about winemaking but I know what I like’.  They are too nervous to speak up front, but we like the authenticity and, actually, most people are pretty good judges.”

For more information:

PS Murray Princess Welcomes Julie Goodwin

Julie Goodwin

Australia’s first MasterChef winner and resident cook on Channel Nine’s Today Show, Julie Goodwin, will do cooking demonstrations on board Captain Cook Cruises’ 4-night Murray River cruise departing Monday, June 10. Goodwin’s life has been a whirlwind since winning MasterChef and writing her cookbook, Our Family Table, one of Australia’s biggest selling cookbooks.

She’ll do three cooking demonstrations on board PS Murray Princess, a modern replica of the paddle wheelers that cruised the Murray in the 1800’s. Her dishes will feature South Australian produce, and she says she is looking forward to meeting passengers and having fun in the kitchen with them.

The cruise sails from Mannum to Blanchetown with day trips to historic ports, Aboriginal sites, a sheep station and woolshed, a wildlife shelter, and a vineyard and cellar door tasting. Prices start from $1299 per person, twin share. There is an option to extend to a 7-night cruise for an extra $600 per person.

PS Murray Princess

Captain Cook Cruises currently has a Winter Warmer sale with discounts of 25% on cruises from June to August. Later this year it will operate, for the first time, a 7-night cruise between Mannum and Loxton. Following in the wake of the 19th century pioneers, the cruise will take in 339km of the Murray River, passing through three locks.

Details: +61 (0)2 9206 1111 or

This post originally appeared on

Oils ain’t oils

Paul explains the benefits of rice bran oil for cooking

I was alerted, along with other writers, on a recent professional visit to Spice Island cooking school at San Remo near Phillip Island  (Victoria), that not all oils are the same…and healthy oils can turn unhealthy when heated.

This chef’s secret came from Paul Stafford, who owns and runs the cooking school and is also an experienced commercial caterer.  Faced with the option to choose what oil we should use to fry a meat dish, many of us assumed that extra virgin olive oil was unsurpassed in the kitchen.

Yes, he said, it was perfect for drizzling over bread and for salad dressings and other applications that did not require it to be heated.  But – and here comes the most interesting part – olive oil quickly breaks down when heated.

Paul explained about the ‘smoke point’ of cooking oils after which their molecular structure starts to change, fatty acids breakdown resulting not only in a flavour change, but the nutritional value also degrades.  Extra virgin olive oil’s smoke point is about 190 degrees celsius, which he said was one of the lowest smoke points among commonly used oils.

One of the highest smoke points belongs to rice bran oil (254C), which is extracted from the whole brown rice germ and inner husk.  It is a well balanced oil with cholesterol reducing properties as well as nutritional and anti-oxidant benefits.

We were curious so we tried it straight from the bottle – tastes a bit nutty, but that seems to disappear in cooking and it leaves no after taste like some of the olive oil varieties. Being less viscous also means less oil is absorbed by the food in the cooking process.

Since our class with Paul I have tried the rice bran oil in cooking and in salad dressings –  so the good oil is to reach for the rice bran and save the extra virgin for crusty sourdough and some aged balsamic.

As a commercial caterer, Paul says an added bonus is that the rice bran oil costs less.

– Graeme Kemlo

Take Away Slow Food

Philippe Mouchel may just be the new take-away king of the Melbourne CBD, but it is far from fast food.

The Frenchman who was once head chef for the legend Paul Bocuse in Lyon first came to Australia to open a local branch of the Bocuse gastronomy empire – that was more than 20 years ago.  Now he has settled back into Melbourne where his modern French bistro, PM 24, is making a statement with its Rotisserie Organic Milawa half chicken, rosemary and preserved lemon,  served with sautéed potatoes and chicken jus. He usually sells out both lunch and dinner offerings of his lip-smacking chook.

On a recent visit as part of the annual AIME expo in Melbourne, media were treated to more familiar Philippe fare – a ten course degustation.  Seated at one long table for about 40 we were able to watch Team Mouchel work the open kitchen, and especially the brilliant red rotisserie that can rotate a range of meats in different ways.  You could also find it pressed into service on pork, beef, lamb, almost anything…even dessert. Modest M. Mouchel attributes significant responsibility for the chicken’s success to this marvellous hand-built gas cooker that he imported from Cuisines Design Paris.

One look at the brilliant red vertical rotisserie – clearly a Ferrari of the kitchen, except it is designed to go slow – and one whiff of the gorgeous smell emanating from its wall of flame, carried me straight back to Rue Mouffetard.  Walking this market street on Paris’ left bank on a rainy day in 2009, the rotisserie chicken and potatoes roasting and basting in the chicken juices proved irresistable – crisp on the outside, succulent within.  I remember well that we scurried back to our nearby apartment clutching a baguette and a Cotes du Rhone – this was our three course degustation.

Should you wish a Parisian experience, Philippe’s chicken costs $25 to go or, he says, Cuisines Design have a home version of the rotisserie for a cool $25,000 (does 20,000 Euros sound cheaper?).

– Graeme Kemlo

Renato’s Risotto Riservato

A little slice of Venice came to Melbourne last week, bringing with it the riservato (secret) to perfect risotto al dente.

Renowned as the risotto king at home, Renato Piccolotto, executive chef at the legendary Orient-Express Hotel Cirpriani, cooked for us at the Victoria Market cooking school.

With the hotel closed for its annual winter refurbishment, General Manager, Giampaolo Ottazzi brought Renato and staff from -15˚ in Europe to a 35˚day in Melbourne.

Asking assembled food writers what rice to use for risotto, he quickly dispells the myth that arborio is best, “we used to use Arborio, then Roma…no more; the secret is Carnaroli from northern Italy,” he said.  Renato is regularly flown to Hollywood by Hotel Cipriani neighbour, Sir Elton John, to cook his famous risotto al dente for 700 of the singer’s closest friends at his annual Oscar’s party.

His secret ingredient is the carnaroli itself, a plump high starch rice which retains shape and bite (al dente) during the cooking process, its amylose ensuring creaminess.  Chef shares the recipe he serves to us – Risotto Primavera con verdure dell’Estuario (Risotto with locally grown spring vegetables).

200 g      carnaroli rice
2 lt          beef & chicken broth
100 g      asparagus (green & white)
1              artichoke
50 g        fresh peas
30 g        peeled tomatoes
5 g          bell pepper
50 g        grated parmesan
1/2         young onion
150 g      zucchini
1 stalk   white celery
2              zucchini blossom
100 g      French beans
100 g      butter

Renato carefully selected all his fresh ingredients from Queen Victoria Market – at home these would come straight from his extensive chef’s garden behind the hotel.  Finely diced vegetables are added to a pan where he has heated butter with half an onion; this is to bring out the vegetables’ colour.

In another pan he browns the remaining finely chopped onion in the butter until tender, stirs in the rice (tip: he did not rinse the rice), which he cooks until translucent.  Chef remains vigilant by the pan, stirring, folding, stirring (obviously another secret).  Then adding a ladle of the mixed stock (“it must be boiling”), he cooks rapidly until the rice gets hot and the stock is absorbed. Adding a little more stock, he repeats the process – more gentle stirring.  After 10 minutes in goes the sauteed vegetables, another 10 minutes of heat sees the rice cooked and the stock absorbed.

Renato pauses to show us that the mixture is not dry, but creamy. Tearing the zucchini flowers by hand he drops them into the mix, allowing it to cool before stirring in parmesan and seasoning to taste. Beside him a large bowl of butter cubes brings a groan from one writer, aghast at the amount of butter we’ll soon be eating….Renato’s eyes flash and in a defiant retort another few cubes fly into the Risotto in a gesture reminiscent of a gauntlet being flung…Chef has spoken loudly without uttering a word. His risotto definitely had the last word: magnifico!

– Graeme Kemlo

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: