When I left London, the team at the fancy restaurant I worked at bought me a truly beautiful Japanese knife as a leaving gift. Ever since that moment Japan has always captured my imagination, and I've carried that knife during all my global travels. Late last year, I finally visited Japan with my partner, who's equally infatuated with the country.
I really admire Japanese culture; they want to be the very best at everything. Imagine a chef cooking only rice for years in order to get a promotion in the kitchen! A favourite memory I have of Japan – Mount Fuji excluded – is Nishiki market in Kyoto: I can still smell the roasted green tea aroma that almost commands you stop and take a deep breath.
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I don't know how many wonderful hours we spent in that market, tasting unusual ingredients, getting a few knives in the well-known Aritsugu shop and eating matcha flavoured ice cream. That day I felt so inspired and decided to cook at home; we bought simple but perfect tuna and vegetables.
As I started to prepare I realised that I will never be a true Japanese chef, but I can be creative with ingredients and come up with a delicious dish with my own spin.
Japan has changed and influenced me in many different ways: making me love whisky even more, appreciate the simplicity of a great bowl of noodles and the beauty of nature… oh those maple trees.
- Kira is the head chef at The Grove in Auckland Central.
Tuna carpaccio with seasonal vegetables and wasabi dressing
This is my take on a classic sashimi-style dish that's perfect as a fresh starter.
400g Yellowfin tuna (eye piece)
Vegetables: carrot, cucumber, soy sprouts, daikon
Black & white sesame seeds
40g wasabi paste
150g rice vinegar
30g soy sauce
Half a lemon
Salt to taste
300g grapeseed oil
1. First slice the tuna fillet; using a sharp knife cut slices 5mm in thickness. Place two slices in between baking paper and bash the tuna with the bottom of a small pan until thin and the size of the plate you're going to serve the carpaccio on.
2. Repeat this for each portion. Keep the tuna in baking paper in the fridge until you're done preparing the rest of the ingredients.
3. Wasabi dressing adds great balance to the dish alongside a fresh zing. Put all the ingredients except the oil into a blender and mix until smooth. Slowly mix in the oil, just a tea spoon at a time, and then keep in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
4. Put the sesame seeds into a pan and slowly toast them until the white seeds have a golden colour. Put aside to cool.
5. Peel the carrot and the daikon and cut into matchstick-sized strips (julienne).
6. Do the same with the cucumber but do not peel it. Put all the ingredients in a bowl along with the soy sprouts and toasted sesame seeds. Add a bit of dressing and mix the vegetables well.
7. Place carpaccio onto plates, season with a bit of flaky salt and lemon juice and brush the carpaccio with wasabi dressing. Place the salad in the middle of the plate and serve.
If you're into sake (or Nihonshu, as the Japanese call it) pour yourself a glass and enjoy!
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