Tempura is one of the quintessential elements in Japanese cuisine, and it is so much more that just deep-fried battered bites. How do you get that airy crispness just so? We sought out chef Kazuhito Motoyoshi, who has been honing his craft for 22 years at his one-Michelin-starred restaurant Tempura Motoyoshi in Aoyama, Tokyo and is Master of Tempura at Mizumi at Wynn Macau since 2013. We managed to score a seat at his tempura station during his short stop in Macau for a nibble and a natter.
Words Nicole Hurip
1. Where do you source your ingredients?
They are imported from all over Japan, including the tempura sauce and salt for dipping.
2. Do you agree that to be a good chef one must rely more on instinct than technique?
I think that while hard work is extremely important, talent is also vital, especially in the art of tempura. When making tempura, the difference of 0.01 seconds can make it or break it. The sense or instinct of mastering the precise cooking time for each ingredient is crucial, and that comes from the one percent of talent that a good chef must possess.
3. Have you been to Hong Kong? What do you think about the Japanese food there?
Once, last year. I was there with a client, and we only went for Chinese food and didn’t get to try any Japanese restaurants. However, there is one tempura restaurant in Hong Kong that I would like to try – Ippoh in Soho.
4. What is your favourite cuisine?
Tempura. I eat it every day.
Thursday is my training day, and I would experiment with the thickness of the tempura batter and how it complements and works with different ingredients. I would also see how the changes in temperature of the ingredients affect their taste. I love tempura, and this is how I constantly learn and improve my skills in making it.
5. What inspired your signature creation, the Hokkaido sea urchin served on a shiso leaf?
It was my wife who inspired me to make this dish, actually. She wanted something that would highlight the unique flavour of sea urchin, not overpower it. The favoured way of serving sea urchin – with nori (seaweed) – draws attention away from the sweetness of the sea urchin as seaweed has such a strong flavour profile on its own. The shiso leaf has a milder taste, allowing the uni to take centrestage.
6. Where are you from? What is your favourite neighbourhood in Tokyo?
I am from Kanagawa, just below Tokyo. My favourite neighbourhood in Tokyo has to be Aoyama, where my restaurant is. There is plenty of natural greenery, and the district draws a mature crowd. Aoyama is also very trendy, with fashionable stores and cafes everywhere. This corresponds nicely to the more modern style of tempura that I make.
7. How do you assess a tempura chef’s prowess?
I will ask the chef, before they start frying, how they plan to approach and cook the ingredients. If they demonstrate knowledge and attention to the specific characteristics of an ingredient, and cook it accordingly, then I would recognise that they know what they are doing. Also, I will keep track of the cooking time in my head and see if the chef’s procedures match my own timing of them: if they remove the tempura from the oil when I expect them to, it shows that they have the instincts of a good tempura chef.
8. How is cooking in Macau different from cooking in Tokyo?
The different climate necessitates a different approach in the storage of the ingredients. For example, we dehydrate the asparagus when we get it, and then re-hydrate it when using it to make tempura. This preserves the taste and freshness of ingredients.
9. Do you think you would be interested in making fusion food? If so, what kind?
Yes, I am actually collaborating with a French restaurant in Ginza, Le Manoir d’Hastings later this month at a one-day-only special event on November 12. I will be working with some older chefs, all over the age of 60. I feel that there is great potential in French-Japanese fusion, as they are very compatible. French food places great emphasis on their sauce – it is the “life” of the dishes. It is the same with tempura, where I use different tempura sauces and salt varieties to bring out the flavours in the ingredients. The idea is to pair French sauces with my tempura.
10. What do you like to do when you’re not making tempura (or eating it)?
I really like flowers, so whenever I have time off I would take a stroll in a park with my wife. I like observing flowers in nature, to see how they grow, as opposed to those at the florist. Flowers growing in the wild have their own personalities, some like to grow in higher places, and some in lower ones. You can’t see that when they are arranged in vases at the florist. This insistence on preserving and honouring what is natural and wholesome is also reflected in my cooking philosophy.