Nobuo Tsuji – Chief Cook | Nadaman | Kowloon Shangri-La Hong Kong
Nobuo Tsuji is chief cook at Nadaman Japanese Restaurant at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hong Kong. He has worked for the Nadaman brand for 20 years, including at the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, and at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai. We chat to him about what it’s like to be a chef in Japan and cooking Japanese food in Hong Kong.
By Victoria Burrows
What first made you decide to become a chef?
I grew up in a family of chefs. My father was a chef at a Chinese restaurant and my older brother is an Italian cuisine chef. As a Japanese native, I decided to work as a chef of Japanese cuisine.
Was it unusual for a young man in Japan to decide to become a chef when you were younger?
When I was young, becoming a chef was not a popular choice for young people. Training was painstaking. Everyone started off as an apprentice and it required a great deal of determination and patience to move upwards as a chef in Japan.
You started out as a trainee at Nadaman, Imperial Hotel, Tokyo – what was that like? What were some of the key things you learned?
I underwent a very hard but fruitful apprenticeship at Nadaman. The level of standard was set very high and meticulous attention to detail was a must in terms of food preparation, cooking techniques, and food taste and presentation. The restaurant was constantly very busy and guests were always looking for new flavours and new dishes. The chefs had to come up with new creations from time to time to meet different palate demands. I learned a lot from this.
You’ve now been working for 20 years at various branches of Nadaman – what is it that particularly appeals to you about the Nadaman brand and style of cuisine?
Nadaman prides its brand on its traditional Japanese cooking techniques and original recipes over the past 180 years. Every Nadaman restaurant follows the same cooking techniques and recipes, but each one has their own creative seasonal dishes. There is a monthly management meeting in Japan where the chefs who are based in Japan share new culinary ideas and new seasonal ingredients with one another. For other chefs who are based in other parts of the world – like me – we have an annual meeting.
What’s it like cooking very refined Japanese food in Hong Kong? Is it different from being a Japanese chef in Japan?
Not much difference as it’s easy for us to source ingredients from Japan here. Every Nadaman restaurant uses the same recipes and ingredients, so being a chef in Hong Kong is just like being a chef in Japan.
How knowledgeable do you find the diners at Nadaman Kowloon Shangri-La are about Japanese food?
Japan is so close to Hong Kong and is one of the top travel destinations for Hong Kong people. Diners here know the Japanese culture very well and are very knowledgeable about Japanese food.
Take also a look at this delicious recipe from Nobuo Tsuji!
If there’s one ingredient you would not be able to cook without, what is it and why?
Bonito fish stock, for sure. It’s the essence of almost all Japanese dishes. We use it in soup, steamed egg, sauces and even rice.
Thank you, Chef Tsuji, and I hope that you and Nadaman continue to have such a successful relationship for another 20 years.