What inspires your cooking the most?
Air inspires me the most. When I go somewhere where there’s lots of natural foods growing, like fruits and vegetables, the air is completely different to the city and that inspires me the most.
What is your earliest memory of being fond of food?
When I was younger my father took me to a restaurant within the Imperial Hotel and I ordered a hamburger. It was a very western experience and very different to anything I’d had before and it was here that I realised that I was really moved by food and the difference of every culture’s cuisine.
As the king of umami, it would only be right that I ask you about it. Can you give us a quick 101 on umami?
Almost everything you eat has umami. For example, if you take boiled water and place any kind of food into the water and allow the water to infuse for a while, the flavour of the water will of course change. That’s extracting the umami flavour from foods. The way you insert umami flavours into certain foods is through cooking. There are certain types of food that have more umami than others. If I was going to create a dish that was umami-centric, it would be T-bone steak. If you grill a T-bone steak with the bone, the flavour is more pronounced than if you cook a T-bone steak without the bone, too.
Is the entertainment, visuals and creating a story through your food an important part of your culinary style?
Yes, 70% of your perception of food is visual. 20% is the scent and actually tasting and accepting the food is 10% so the visual and entertainment and the story part of food is really important in my dishes.
Is making healthy food an important part of your culinary philosophy?
In Chinese characters, the word for doctor and chef is very closely linked so I feel that it is my responsibility as a chef to give my guests healthy, nutritious food. All of the chemicals and impurities that we consume through food and alcohol stays in our bodies and doesn’t extract out and it all builds up in your bodies. When I make food, I pay close attention to the ingredients that I’m using so that I don’t contribute to this build up of bad properties in the body. Ramen is really popular these days but its quite unhealthy. Its very oily and acidic and a lot of the time restaurants use cheap noodles, which aren’t good for you. When I make ramen, I create and cook with noodles that are half the calories and which are one third of the sodium. I also use only natural ingredients, too.
As a chef, what would you say are your three most indispensible ingredients?
Salt and oil are essential and the third one is fermented ingredients which are great for adding flavour to dishes.
What kind of experience do you aim to give the guests dining at your restaurants?
I want people to enjoy the after feeling of eating food in my restaurants. I don’t want it to sit in your body. The best thing is if people forget what they’ve eaten when they leave my restaurant so they feel nourished but not heavy.
If you could take a plane ride to anywhere in the world, just for one meal, where would it be and why?
I would love to go back to somewhere in the world — probably Pompei in Italy — where they make the most basic bread from scratch and bake them in stone ovens.