Name: Takeshi Sekigawa
Country of Origin: Japan
Restaurant: Yasaka Ramen
Yasaka Ramen has become a ramen staple for Sydney ever since it opened, and one of the highlights is that their noodles are hand made in store. Washoku Lovers went to see Chef Takeshi to talk about all things ramen and the new menu, released December 2015.
WL: When did you start cooking washoku?
Chef Takeshi: My mum really liked cooking, she made miso, soy sauce, and umeshu at home. Seeing that from a young age got me interested in cooking.
When I was in primary school, I learned how to cook outdoors as part of being a boy scout. Then in high school I started working in restaurants. Pizza, okonomiyaki, yakitori, even a traditional restaurant that had been around for over 100 years, I learned my foundations of cooking at these places.
I was in charge of making dashi stock, handling the fish and meat, and arranging things like the hors d’oeuvres on the serving plates. It really was the basics of Japanese cooking.
I started making ramen as the manager of a ramen shop in Tokyo. The tonkotsu shoyu ramen base comes from Yokohama city, we use chicken fat, chicken bones, and soy sauce.
WL: How did you learn the process of making ramen?
Chef Takeshi: I studied it for about 3 to 4 years. East ramen, like from Kyoto, or other parts of Kyushu is a little bit different in how they match the soy sauce to the flavours.
I thought, “I really want to make ramen in Australia”, I can serve ramen styles from Kansai to Tokyo and make everyone’s dreams come true (laughs).
I was making ramen at Gumshara, which is part of a franchise from Japan, it a real tonkotsu ramen, the broth is just pork bones and water.
After 4 years there, I learned enough to ‘graduate’. Now, I’m independent as the owner and head chef of Yasaka Ramen.
WL: You can really taste your passion for ramen in your food.
Chef Takeshi: I make the soup base in a 100 litre pressure cooker. Inside, it can get up to 136 degrees celsius. You can get all the umami flavour out of the pork bones in just a few hours, which you can’t get from just a normal pot. What normally takes 13 hours, we can do it in 3.
WL: Do you think it’s difficult making washoku outside Japan?
Chef Takeshi: There’s a lot of delicacy in Japanese food. In Japan we can accommodate preferences for subtle tastes. We developed paitan and chicken soups for people who can’t eat pork for religious reasons, we work hard so lots of people can be happy with the food they receive.
WL: Is ramen different here to what it is in Japan?
Chef Takeshi: The base ingredients are different. Even the bones are different. You have to really fuss over the ingredients, and make careful selections here.
WL: What’s your signature dish?
Chef Takeshi: Our regular tonkotsu base, with soy sauce, salt, and miso flavours all mixed through are something we all enjoy at Yasaka. No matter how many times we try to remake soup bases to improve them, we always come back to this one. It’s a good thing to have if you’re going out to eat by yourself. The salt gives it a real depth of flavour, it’s very delicate.
WL: What’s your favourite dish
Chef Takeshi: Tsukemen. I used all my experience in washoku to start making it. The noodles are made out of whole wheat, it’s quite nutritious. The whole wheat gives the noodle a different texture, and I really love the aroma.
WL: Do you have a message for the Washoku Lovers Members?
Chef Takeshi: To everyone who loves ramen, I’ve prepared my menu with the hopes that the abundance and variety of ramen will be something you look forward to eating. So that you don’t get bored of ramen, I’m researching every day. I’m also working on a vegetarian menu.
In the future, we want to be energetic no matter what happens. I absolutely believe I have some luck, so even though I’m very stubborn and thick-headed, luck and willpower will move Yasaka forward!
There are some other differences between Japan and Australia that are really interesting. In Japan it’s normal to eat and then just leave, but everyone here always says “thank you” to us. That’s one of the main things that ties the satisfaction of cooking to my work.