Tough at the top

Tetsuya's
Photos courtesy of Tetsuya’s

Just like his namesake restaurant, Tetsuya Wakuda is an unstoppable force on Sydney’s fine dining scene. By Frank Leggett

What is the secret to Tetsuya’s longevity and success?

We are conscious about consistency of service and food. We’re not perfect but we try to be. A lot of people visit Tetsuya’s for a reason. It may be a birthday, anniversary, an impressive first date or even a marriage proposal. They arrive with a high expectation of their experience and we do everything in our power to exceed that expectation. At the end of their dining experience, we want them to leave with a special memory.

What is the biggest challenge in running Tetsuya’s?

The same problem facing most restaurants—finding and retaining the right staff. Being employed in a restaurant is a job but it also requires commitment. We are working when most other people are sleeping, socialising or having fun. Unfortunately, not many young people want to get into our profession which is a shame because our industry has a lot to offer. We have about 50 staff at Tetsuya’s and there’s a certain level of turnover. While I am happy to employ experienced staff, I’m also happy to give a less experienced person an opportunity if they have a real passion for what we do. 

Do you run regular training for staff?

No, not regular. Some of my staff have 30 years’ experience so they just don’t need it. Some other restaurants offer a month’s training and that’s it. At Tetsuya’s, we consider every day we’re open to be a training day.

Tetsuya's

What does it mean to you to win the 2019 NSW Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence Fine Dining for the second year in a row?

I am very happy to win the award and congratulate my team for their hard work. It makes me proud of them and it’s wonderful to celebrate our win together. However, such an award is also a reminder that we have to work even harder in the future.

Is there any value in following trends?

I don’t think so. I have just returned from Japan and noticed there’s a big trend for Spanish food. A lot of restaurants are changing their menus in order to stay up with this trend. At Tetsuya’s, I have always followed my own style and presented food that’s the essence of what I believe. My confit of ocean trout is my most popular dish. Some people in the media have suggested it’s time to update and take it off the menu. Why would I do that? Clients love it and they often visit a second or third time just to enjoy that dish again. As I mentioned, many people visit Tetsuya’s as part of a celebration and look forward to eating confit of ocean trout. If I was to take it from the menu, their experience would be lacking. 

Being employed in a restaurant is a job but it also requires commitment. We are working when most other people are sleeping, socialising or having fun.

Tetsuya Wakuda on what puts especially young people off working in the restaurant business

What advice would you give a young chef opening a restaurant?

Stick to it. There will be good days and bad days but you have to stick to it. When I started my first restaurant in Sydney, there would be five people one day, then 40 people the next day, then four people the day after that. During my first year in business, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive. By my second year, I was having many repeat customers and word started getting out. By sticking to what I believed, I managed to grow my business and eventually get to where I am today.

Tetsuya's

Food critics and clients often call your dishes perfect—can perfection ever really be achieved?

No, there’s always room for improvement. We just have to try harder.

What’s your greatest achievement?

I’m still working in the industry. A lot of people ask me, when are you going to retire? I keep hearing that question more and more. When I started out, I never dreamed of the type of success I have today. Being awarded Michelin stars and winning awards, such as the R&C Awards for Excellence, was not something to which I aspired—even though it’s greatly appreciated.

Tetsuya's

I like the fact that I’m now in a position to give younger staff members increased opportunities. I don’t have any children, so I feel like my team is like my family. When they fulfil their potential, it makes me very happy. They often go on to run, own or manage successful businesses here and overseas, and that makes me very proud.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ve recently done a complete rebuild on Waku Ghin, my restaurant in Singapore. The place was gutted and a brand new interior installed. While I was in Japan recently, I spent a lot of my time purchasing artworks and bespoke crockery for the restaurant. It should reopen in January 2020. 

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