This celebrity chef has cooked for 3 US presidents

Karen Flores, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 16 2016 10:45 AM

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Chef Hide Yamamoto graduated from the National Cookery School in Italy and studied under the prestigious French chef Roger Verge. In 2010, he was given the Global Chef Award by the World Gourmet Summit. Karen Flores, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Japanese celebrity chef Hide Yamamoto was in town recently to conduct a cooking demonstration as part of Visa’s Epic Dining program for cardholders.

His namesake restaurant at City of Dreams Manila is one of the dining outlets featured in the promo, which lets guests enjoy discounts and free dishes from Thursday, March 17, to June 16, 2016.

Other participating restaurants in Manila include Barcino, Belle and Dragon, Banzai, Valkyrie, Revel, Pool Club, Café Naya, Moonshine, Splice Restobar, I Am Kim, Chaos Nightclub, Catch, Melo’s, Backyard Kitchen and Brew, Spiral, La Veranda, Le Bar, Black Sheep, Tunnl and Brotzeit.

Some concepts in Cebu are also part of the promo – Blue Elephant, Canvas, F Café & Bar, Liv Superclub, Circa 1900, Siam Thai Cuisine, Siam Krua Thai and Shabu Way, among others.

“This event is very important to me,” Yamamoto told ABS-CBN News. “It’s a really good opportunity to introduce my restaurant to the people of Manila.”

“Manila is one of those, in my opinion, that have a great potential for growth in the restaurant industry,” he added.

During the demo, Yamamoto showed how to prepare Young Chicken Stuffed with Truffle Rice, a popular dish in his restaurant, and US Black Angus Steak with Sesame Sauce.

In a one-on-one interview with ABS-CBN News, the Japanese-born and Italian- and French-trained chef shared his beginnings, his future plans, and his memorable experience of serving three US presidents.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On being a ‘hesitant chef’

“Actually, it’s kind of awkward to say that I wanted to become a chef. I did not. I like to cook, I like to eat, that was way back during third grade. After school, I cook with my friends. By sixth grade, I was cooking for the whole family.

“Then by high school, I was into the motorcycle gangs, things like that. Eventually, I went to university… My father said, what are you going to do? I said, well, I don’t know, maybe go to Hawaii to learn English or something? Of course, my father’s smart, he understood that I’m going to Hawaii for the surfing. He said, no, what is good for you, you should be a chef. I said, why? I was like, me, be a chef? It’s not cool (laughs).

On when he started to get serious

“I was 18 then, my father started introducing me to good restaurants, and I started cooking. Then a chef told me, hey, I’m going to Italy, want to come? I said yeah, I’ll come. It was easy back then, I was just 18 years old. Then I started my career, I started to get serious.”

“I said, I wanted this to be my business… Before, I was a ‘dropped kid.’ Then suddenly, I had direction.”

On his biggest challenge as a chef/restaurateur

“Cooking is a challenge, because of course you have to be good at that. But to be able to bring that maximum performance, you need good staff. You need not just good cooks, but also servers and managers.”

“In every country I go to, I always struggle – Italy, France, America, Singapore, Macau, then here [in Manila]. There is also the challenge of adjusting to the culture… But I think I’m getting good at it.”

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Yamamoto prepares his signature dish, Young Chicken Stuffed with Truffle Rice, during an event at his restaurant in Manila. Karen Flores, ABS-CBN News

On serving 3 US presidents

“The first US president I served was Reagan. I started with the end of his first term, then the second inauguration. I was working at Ritz Carlton at the time as an executive chef.

“The toughest challenge was coming up with the menu. The White House people would come in and… it’s kind of back and forth, really. I was like, tasting six or seven times with these people. At the end of the day, I wanted to hit them in the head (laughs).

“The second one is Bush Sr. He’s kind of like the easygoing guy. But somehow, he likes Chinese food. Every month, he would go to a Chinese restaurant called Peking Duck Gourmet, so I thought of putting together a Chinese-inspired menu. It’s a fusion of Southern food and Chinese cuisine.”

“The third one is Clinton. Actually, I cooked for him twice, but the second one, I was no longer with Ritz Carlton – they just called me there to be a consultant, and I said I’d be happy to.

“Clinton had a strange eating habit as well. He likes game. He’s a hunter and he wants duck, quail, venison, that kind of thing. When he was dining at the restaurant, he had quail then he had duck. Not a lot of people do that.”

On the dining preferences of presidential wives

“Everybody’s a different character. I personally like Mrs. Reagan because she comes every week and she always asks me what I have, so I create something different. I named a dish after her – Nancy Reagan Chicken Salad. I asked her if I could use her name, she said, yes of course!”

“Hillary (Clinton), she’s very picky, even with her own White House chefs. She likes to eat healthy food. She fired the French chef – no butter, no cream, no nothing. It was quite a shock with the newspapers. So when she visits, we always cook without liquor, butter and cream.”

On his food philosophy

“I think the most important thing is you have fresh, seasonal ingredients. If you have that, you’re already halfway there. It’s hard to go wrong from there.

“You don’t twist it, you don’t overpower it. You also have to look at your market. I’m not just about the 3 Michelin stars, I want my cuisine to be enjoyed by everybody. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

“In my restaurant here in Manila, we have teppan, sushi, ramen, a bar and a charcoal grill. They can have anything they want. They could get things from the other area. Of course the sushi chef would normally hate it if his customers are eating ramen, but this is not Japan. So let’s respect the customer. As long as the food is good, why not?”

On his signature dish

“Maybe the Young Chicken Stuffed with Truffle Rice. I didn’t really intend it to be my signature dish, but this is what people want and take home. With its flavors and juices, people started to get interested in it. It’s different from traditional Japanese cuisine, but it has Japanese elements – Japanese rice, soy sauce, chicken stock, etc.”

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Yamamoto prepares his second dish, US Black Angus Steak with Sesame Sauce. Karen Flores, ABS-CBN News

On his favorite comfort dish

“I try to eat something different every day, different cuisine. I started training in Italian cuisine so I kind of like making pasta at home. It’s actually the most difficult to make, although many people don’t think that way.”

On being an adventurous eater

“I like to try everything at least once. I also enjoy street food… Whenever I come here, I eat balut. That’s an easy one."

On his future projects

“Right now I’m based in Singapore and I’ll move to Japan by the end of May because I will start many things… I recently opened a restaurant in Tokyo. I’m also doing consultant work for hotels and airlines. And we’re also opening a restaurant in Hawaii and Dubai.”

On his advice to aspiring chefs/restaurateurs

“Location is very important. It should be easy for people to find it. It can be in the back streets, but the chef has to be there. They have to see you. You have to be patient.”

“I guess many people couldn’t make it, I see that. It’s hard to survive in this business. Day by day, there are more to come. But in the end, it’s all about taking care of your customers. You wouldn’t know what kind of cooking is going to be a success. Their preferences might change.”

“Everybody’s doing the same thing, so you have to do something different. But you have to be focused and you have to know what you’re doing. Stick to your own expertise.”