From Japan with Love
STORY AND IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
Kazuki Tsuya spends his spare time exploring the forests around Daylesford. Quietly spoken and profoundly observant this Japanese born chef has a yearning for the wild. “I was born in a small town in Akita,” says Kazuki, referring to the heavily wooded prefecture in the north of the main island of Honshu.
“I grew up playing baseball and exploring the mountainous countryside. There was a lot of nature.” He followed his love of baseball to the United States then to Australia to work with the Victorian Baseball Association. “I then looked for work as a waiter at Misuzu’s in Albert Park to work on my English,” he says. “They put me in the kitchen.”
He was 25 years old. A love of fine wine and French food took him to work in the kitchen of France Soir in South Yarra where he learned classic French technique and whole carcass butchery of game birds and animals: rabbit; pheasant; venison; pigeon and duck.
The call of the wild was strong in Kazuki and he scoured the Age Good Food Guide to find a place in the country. Whilst working at France Soir he spent his days off doing estage at Lake House. “I am a country boy,” says Kazuki matter of factly. “I was looking at moving back to the country with my wife and family.” He moved to Daylesford and worked under Alla Wolf-Tasker learning fine dining skills. There he spent four years rising to sous chef.
In 2011 he left Lake House and returned to his Japanese roots opening his eponymous 34 seat restaurant in a 160-year-old former hotel. Kazuki’s was met with critical acclaim. He teamed up with his next-door neighbour Raymond Robinson, a local force in gardening, to establish kitchen gardens in the restaurant and at Kazuki’s home in Hepburn Springs, providing fresh vegetables and herbs for the restaurant.
This month he announces major changes in his life. He is moving his fine dining Japanese restaurant to the city and opening a casual eatery called Sakana in its place. “In Japanese ‘sakana’ is the food you eat with a drink,” says Kazuki. It is Japanese influenced but not necessarily Japanese. He brings out samples from the menu. There is karage – chicken breast marinated in soy master stock then coated in cornflour and deep fried. Perfect with a beer. There are plump, hand-pleated seafood dumplings served with a rich XO sauce. Several freshly shucked oysters have been baptised in tempura batter and quickly fried. There is crunchy deep-fried pork katsu and pinot friendly dishes such as smoked duck breast with daikon. Sakana is set to be the place for a quick bite with friends or a time for more serious understanding of the wine and sake list accompanied with these really delicious treats.
The last dinner service as Kazuki in Daylesford is on Monday 13th August before reopening as Sakana on 16 August. Kazuki's, Carlton will open at 121 Lygon St in mid-October.