Executive Chef Yuya Okuda of Maduzi by Yuya, a Japan native who specialises in European cuisine, can be said to exemplify Bangkok’s reputation as a culinary crossroads.
By Niki Chatikavanij
I love Japanese food, probably more than any other cuisine, and I was rather excited about perhaps getting the chance to help myself to some favourites. However I must admit I was slightly disappointed when I heard that Chef Yuya Okuda, executive chef at Maduzi by Yuya, the fusion French restaurant located in the Maduzi Hotel on the corner of Sukhumvit 16 at Asoke, wasn’t going to make me anything vaguely resembling tonkatsu.
The first thing I noticed was that he was rather tall for a Japanese man, and he also seemed adept at posing for the camera. We began the interview with a little background chitchat. As it happened Chef Yuya started out similarly to a certain internationally famous chef, Jamie Oliver, by cooking in his parents' pub. Yuya Okuda's parents were always busy working so he took his place as the household chef, learning much and acquiring skills during his youth until eventually enrolling in one of Japan’s a top culinary schools.
A distinctive aspect of Yuya’s culinary talent is the way he uses the multi-cultural factor to his advantage. Despite the menu being Mediterranean, the prep work is done with Japanese precision, for instance as applied to the slicing of beef and the entire presentation itself. And what I think makes Chef Yuya really stand out is his easy yet quiet confidence.
It's sometimes a funny thing the way writers, for example, critique the work of other writers, or to learn what actors think of others in the same line of work. In this light I asked Chef Yuya if, when eats at other restaurants, he tends to be more critical than most diners. For one, Chef Yuya says that sometimes he feels as if restaurants waste their food, while if a dish has something not quite right, he does in fact think about how it could have been cooked differently.
My time with Chef Yuya reinforced a perception, one I’ve gained from meeting other chefs, that most share certain traits. Obviously, to be a chef a person would have to genuinely enjoy cooking. Like other accomplished chefs, Chef Yuya likewise treats his work as an art form. You can see this in how he presents his food. It's very pretty, so much so that you almost feel guilty for ruining it by cutting the meat or vegetables.
When the conversation moved beyond the culinary, I found out he’s the father of two young boys. Yuya acknowledges a certain attachment to Thailand, as one tends to develop over time. He’s raising two sons here and sends them to a Japanese school. And since there's a thriving expat community in Bangkok he's content with building a life here. I couldn't help but bring up the recent tsunami tragedy in Japan earlier this year, and he told me that a friend of his, a fellow chef who was working alongside him during his years in France, had been a victim of the natural disaster.
Returning to the culinary arts, Yuya noted that his relationships with fellow chefs, anyone and everyone in the kitchen, are very positive and close, and he considers these working relationships as crucial. He surprised by saying that language isn't an issue, mentioning that he and his colleagues can communicate in other ways. Sure there are struggles, but Chef Yuya credits Thailand as being a very warm, welcoming and accepting place, and that makes things easier. He says that cracking France was slightly harder, as the French are known for being aloof; but, once he settled into the environment he warmed to the place and they to him. He added that one thing he wants is for Thai chefs, and not only those he works with, to succeed at an international level. Thai chefs, he maintains, have the talent but not the exposure. He wants to help them be better, and if at the end of his stay in Thailand he achieves this goal he'll be a very happy man.
If you wish to try cuisine a bit out of the ordinary, Maduzi by Yuya is a definite must. With Chef Yuya Okuda's passion and artful skill going into every dish it’s certain you’ll be a very happy diner just the same.
05/09/2011 - 10:43