Jun Tanaka's recipe for success
Brit Chef is in town to attend Taste of Dubai
Take a few world-famous Michelin-star chefs; add on some television chefs armed with enough charisma to get even the most kitchen-shy viewer hooked to their shows; sprinkle some mouth-watering cooking sessions into the mix; a dash of live music and entertainment. And what do you get? An extremely appealing Taste of Dubai that kicks off tomorrow at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.
Among all the attendees at this year's Taste of Dubai, Jun Tanaka stands out as someone who worked his way up the kitchen hierarchy and made a name for himself on competitive cooking shows. He no doubt wields a mean knife on the chopping block; that along with his charming persona on screen and a killer instinct off it, has ensured this American born, Japanese-Brit Chef is no flash in the pan. Excerpts from our interview with Jun Tanaka:
Your father was a chemical engineer; your brother is an orthopedic surgeon.what's the conversation like at the dining table?
It's pretty diverse but we rarely talk about our jobs. The last time we were all together was at Christmas and we chatted about cryptocurrency, Brexit, Finance and Wii!
What are your thoughts on Dubai as a food destination? What are you looking forward to the most here?
I've visited Dubai a few times but haven't been recently so there are some new places that I want to visit. Unfortunately, I won't have the time to try them all, so the top of my list is The Lighthouse at d3. I know Izu Ani from working in London and he's an incredible chef. The exciting thing about the Dubai restaurant scene is that it's always evolving and with Expo 2020 coming up, I'm sure there will be a lot of new openings - I do hope there will be more home-grown restaurant concepts.
What can fans look forward to at your session at Taste of Dubai?
At The Al Ain Farms and Kibsons Cooking Challenge, I'll be teaching how to prepare a simple recipe of Roast duck with chicory. On the Crate and Barrels Chef Theatre, I'll be cooking a dish from The Ninth - Roast turbot with lemon butter and mussels.
To an outsider you are the perfect amalgamation of tastes - American born Japanese-British TV Chef with a French-Mediterranean restaurant. Do you consider that your USP? Do you believe you have an advantage over other chefs in the kitchen due to your mixed cultural influences?
I think most people have multi-cultural influences so I don't see this as an advantage. Also, I believe if you travel you can expose yourself to the different cultures and cuisines..you just have to be curious. As for my USP, I think it's too complicated to be a proper USP! The best ones are the simplest.like a recipe!
The Ninth in London has won rave reviews. Any plans for opening one in Dubai?
I would definitely consider opening a restaurant in Dubai given the right opportunity. Actually, I had an offer to open a restaurant in Madinat Jumeirah before I opened The Ninth. I nearly accepted but decided that it was more important to establish a restaurant first in London before looking at other locations.
What's your idea of a perfect meal? Does the fact that you are around food all day make you jaded when it comes to picking out a favourite dish?
That's a hard question! A perfect meal can be found anywhere from a 3 Michelin star restaurant to a small local tavern. When I travel, the first thing I do is visit the food markets. I seek out the lesser-known restaurants serving local dishes cooked simply. I'm always excited to find the best version of local specialties. My last trip was Liguria in Italy and their specialty is Lasagne alla Genevose - Lasagna with pesto. I ate this every day until I found the perfect one!
What's the best piece of advice you have received over the years?
Creating a good working environment where the staff are happy will ultimately benefit the business.
What's the advice you'd give to a youngster hoping to replicate your success?
You need to take your time to build a strong foundation of knowledge. Work in the best kitchens possible and constantly ask questions. I would highly recommend working in several different restaurants to broaden your mind to different techniques and recipes. And don't be afraid of making mistakes.
What's your earliest memory of food or cooking?
It's not my earliest memory but it's the most vivid - my first day at Le Gavroche. I was 19 years old with no professional experience and I walked into the best kitchen in the UK with my mother's kitchen knife. I was so nervous that I could barely hold the knife. I still remember my first job - Julienne (Cut into matchsticks) 3 Celeriac. This took me 5 hours and I cut myself a dozen times but my knife skills improved very quickly!
To be a successful chef today takes more than just being able to cook a great meal. In this social media world, you need to be a good marketer, you need to be great on television; talk well and look good. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it helps if you are good on television and can market yourself. But, if you can't back it up with good cooking then people will see through this. I think a more essential combination for success is being able to cook well and have a good understanding of finance.
You've had many stints on cookery shows. What is it about TV that appeals to you?
Television is the best media for marketing the restaurant so it's important for the business but not essential. To come across well on television, you have to be able to explain recipes in a straight-forward and understandable way. You have to make the recipes look simple enough that the viewer feels confident that they can recreate the dishes at home. And finally, you have to convey your passion for food and ingredients.
Taste of Dubai is on at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on March 8,9,10