Heralded as the destination for top-class sushi and Wagyu in Dubai, TakaHisa is setting a new standard for luxury Japanese fine dining in the United Arab Emirates. FOUR speaks with TakaHisa’s Head Chefs, Takashi Namekata (Sushi Master) and Hisao Ueda (Wagyu Master), to uncover exactly what this stellar dining venue hopes to deliver to its guests.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND: WHERE YOU WERE BORN, WHAT WAS YOUR UPBRINGING LIKE AND WHO/WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A CHEF?
Taka: I was born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. I worked part-time at a restaurant that served eel, and that made me want to pursue my career as a chef.
Hisa: I was born and raised in Hokkaido, which is well known for delicacies throughout all seasons. I was always surrounded by good food, and I think this environment I grew up in made me want to become a chef.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR CULINARY CAREER UP UNTIL THIS POINT? FEEL FREE TO INCLUDE ANY STUDIES OR EXPERIENCE YOU GAINED ALONG THE WAY, WHO YOU WORKED WITH, AND WHERE…
Taka: After I worked at Toufuya Ukai and learned Kaiseki Cuisine (a traditional Japanese multi-course meal), I moved to Dubai in 2010. I joined TOMO as one of the opening staff in 2013 and served as an Executive Chef there from 2015 to 2021. While I was working as the Executive Chef, TOMO was listed as highly commended in the Japanese Restaurant section and received the Best Japanese award by Timeout Dubai in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Hisa: After graduating from a culinary school in Sapporo, Hokkaido, I started my first job at a French restaurant, and that is where I first encountered Wagyu. After that, I worked at a restaurant called Boubaitei (忘梅亭) and learned the basics of Japanese cuisine. In 2011, I moved to Dubai and finally opened a Wagyu Kaiseki restaurant, Kohantei (湖畔亭), in 2017, and served as an Executive Chef. In the beginning, it was a challenge, and it took tremendous effort to increase the restaurant’s presence and its concept linked with the use of Wagyu, but I believe I had a great experience. Chef Taka, whom I trust deeply, and I opened TakaHisa in 2021.
WHAT/WHO WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE/CHEF THAT IMPACTED YOUR CULINARY PHILOSOPHY AND WHY?
Taka: I would say my experience in Tofuya Ukai has had a great deal of influence on my culinary mentality. I not only learned the basics of cooking but also what kind of mind a great chef has to have.
Hisa: I do not really have anything that can be called my culinary philosophy, but one thing I do not do is serve dishes that I don’t think are good and delicious. I never compromise on this point and never will.
WHAT FOOD AND PRINCIPLES ARE MOST SIGNIFICANT IN YOUR CUISINE NOW, AND HOW DO YOU REALISE THESE IN YOUR DISHES AT YOUR RESTAURANT?
Taka: It goes without saying that always using good ingredients or having good culinary skills is important. However, thinking about what will make diners satisfied and happy is crucial. I always try to provide dishes that are simply enjoyable in many ways.
Hisa: We only use ingredients of the finest quality and serve dishes bringing out the best of those ingredients. However, we should never compromise our cooking just because we use the best ingredients. Instead, I strongly believe we should always devote ourselves to cooking in order to be better tomorrow.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE TAKAHISA’S CULINARY PHILOSOPHY?
Taka: We put the first priority on diners’ satisfaction. We also always think about what will bring those diners back and keep satisfying them.
Hisa: We never get content with what we are and what we are doing now. Instead, we always think about what new things we can do to create a great dining experience.
TELL US MORE ABOUT WHAT DINERS CAN EXPECT FROM THEIR EXPERIENCE AT YOUR RESTAURANT…
Both: Classy and sophisticated décor with an ambience that other restaurants want to imitate (but cannot). Our big emphasis is “the best” of everything. From the ingredients that we import from Japan and the best Sushi/Wagyu masters in the UAE to the service we provide diners so that diners can also have the best dining experience. Our wish is that diners leave feeling welcome to come back.
HAS THERE BEEN A WOW MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER YET, OR ARE YOU PARTICULARLY PROUD OF ANY ACHIEVEMENTS?
Taka: Winning an award from Timeout and going on a business trip to Qatar and Africa to serve sushi at the Japanese government’s request are things I feel proud to have achieved. From those experiences abroad, I have come to think that being a chef means a lot more than simply serving dishes.
Hisa: I would say the fact that I came to Dubai is the biggest wow moment for me. When I worked in Hokkaido, I was happy with my situation, and I did not really have ambition. Then I realised that more and more things are out there, and all the things I saw and experienced were very limited, making me want to pursue my career more.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST WHEN COOKING AND THINKING OF DISHES, AND HOW DO YOU REMAIN CONTINUALLY CREATIVE/DEDICATED?
Taka: I do my best to bring out the best of the ingredients I use. Additionally, sometimes I try to think outside the box, forget “the standards” or “common practice”, and try new things I had never planned on doing.
Hisa: All those people I have met in Dubai are my treasure, and those people inspire me and make me want to be a better chef than I am today. And simply “thank you” from diners is a big motivation for me to keep going.
TELL US ABOUT WHAT SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE INGREDIENTS ARE TO USE AND WHY?
Taka: I like “sea snake” fish such as eel and conger eel, maybe because I started my career at a restaurant serving eel at a younger age. I also like blue-backed fish such as Aji (mackerel) and Kohada. How you precook has a huge impact on the taste of the fish, and I would like people to be more aware of this characteristic of traditional Japanese sushi. Just because you use the same fish for sushi does not guarantee the same taste as sushi prepared professionally by us.
Hisa: I would have to say it is definitely Wagyu, for I have been serving Wagyu for 20 years, and I cannot describe my career without it. The more you know about Wagyu, the more fascinated you become with it; Wagyu is simply the treasure Japan has to offer.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR PRODUCE FROM, AND WHY FROM THESE PRODUCERS/LOCATIONS?
Taka: We purchase fish directly through an in-house trading company from the biggest fish market, Toyosu Market, in Tokyo. Maintaining good relations with the suppliers and directly contacting them on the spot enables us to get the best of what they have or what we want. We are sure and confident that we serve sushi using only the freshest fish from Japan at any time.
Hisa: Although there is Wagyu beef, such as Australian Wagyu, we only import Wagyu from certain Japanese producers. They raise the cattle with great care and cherish them until the very end.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE OR SIGNATURE DISH?
Taka: This is not a dish, but the natural bluefin tuna we use is definitely my favourite. We are the only restaurant in the UAE that can purchase bluefin tuna from the best Japanese bluefin tuna brand, “Yamayuki”. This is the most sought-after fish, and all Michelin-star restaurants are desperate to get this brand.
Hisa: Our Wagyu Beef Carpaccio is one of my favourite dishes, as you can taste the umami of the Wagyu the most from this dish. If it were not for this dish, I might not have met our owner and started our restaurant.
WHAT ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS THAT HAVE LED TO THE RESTAURANT’S SUCCESS?
Taka: I don’t necessarily consider TakaHisa a success yet; I think there is so much room for improvement to grow into a better restaurant that could bring diners more satisfaction and joy.
Hisa: I would say one of the contributors to our success is that our staff members, from the chefs and sommeliers to service members, are all professional and dedicated.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SETS TAKAHISA APART FROM OTHER RESTAURANTS IN DUBAI?
Taka: I have seen restaurants serving authentic sushi or Wagyu, but TakaHisa is the only restaurant that uses only ingredients imported directly from Japan and that serves both sushi and Wagyu in one place.
Hisa: Most so-called “trendy restaurants” are usually fusion cuisine restaurants, and I actually think it is a good business strategy. TakaHisa, on the other hand, is a place where you can indulge in authentic Japanese using ingredients of premium quality directly imported from Japan that’s prepared with excellent culinary skills.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR 2023…
Taka: We are hoping to get awarded Michelin stars. It will be such an honour and pleasure to earn a Michelin star and share the joy of it with our owner, other chefs, and exceptional service staff members.
Hisa: In October 2022, we held a collaboration event with a Michelin-star chef from Paris. It was our first collab and a meaningful experience for me. I want to keep going so that I will be able to hold similar events in future and make TakaHisa an iconic restaurant in the whole world.