Perched on the 37th floor of Palladium hotel, the recently opened Modern Japanese restaurant, Yuuka is Chef Ting Yen’s latest conception. Renowned chef and proud owner of the renowned restaurant Oishii Boston in the USA, Chef Ting Yen dreamt of becoming a pilot before finally perfecting the art of cooking. In a candid conversation with the man-behind-the-scenes, Chef Yen tells us his journey of becoming a chef, his thoughts on Mumbai and a lot more.
When you first get a glimpse of Chef Ting Yen, his stern looks and disciplinary behavior may intimidate you. Over a latte and his famous Japanese delicacies, he reveals his childhood inspired dish and the conception of Yuuka which has taken the city by storm.
Let’s start with your journey as a chef. What inspired to you to choose this profession?
My entire family consists of chefs. Surprisingly I wanted to be a pilot, but life changes. When I came to the United States of America, I realized I needed to make a living. Luckily, I knew how to cook so I began cooking and I slowly realised I enjoyed it. People appreciated my food; they thought it was a unique and different. I used to try other people’s food and I picked up a few techniques from here and there and used it. The best burgers on earth come from my kitchen! But of course, we cannot sell it here.
Describe Yuuka in 3 words.
Yuuka is exciting. In addition to being a local and city chef, I now have the opportunity to become international. Many chefs dream of what I’m doing. It’s actually hard to express my thoughts. Yuuka for me is hard-working, a dream-come-true. Of course Mumbai and its pretty cool. I feel very deeply because my mind has to become very strong. I may not be the best chef but I feel now I need to become really good and become a challenger.
What are your thoughts on Mumbai?
Mumbai is a crazy city and full of energy. The people are nice but if you bump into them in the elevator, they don’t say “excuse me” or “thank you”, but when they visit my restaurant they say are friendly. Honestly there’s a lot about the city that I do not know but I would love to explore. I like it here.
What is your most inspired dish on the menu?
My most inspired dish is the Japanese Yam Tempura Maki; I feel 99.9% of my guests have really enjoyed the dish. I have not really shared this with anyone though. The dish is inspired by my childhood. Every morning when I was young and used to leave my house to go to school, there was a vendor selling sweet potato sticks wrapped in a newspaper. My mother used to regularly buy the snack.
Do your Oishii Boston & Yuuka menus have any similarities?
Yes, 50% of my Oishii Boston menu is brought here. We prepare a few specials in Boston, test it in our restaurant and then bring it here. Of course, in Mumbai we have to focus on the vegetarian dishes as well.
Is Yuuka’s menu crafted especially for the Indian palate?
Yes indeed. The dishes on the menu today, took me 9 months to practice and perfect. I wanted to understand the local taste and the Indian Palate. I can’t say that I’m 100% perfect but I try to understand every customer. I know it is difficult to make everyone happy. Today, even if 80% of my customers are happy, I would consider that an achievement.
How long did it take to float Yuuka?
I started planning this almost 2 years ago. It materialised faster than I thought. When I was initially approached, I said no. I believed it was impossible and also honestly I didn’t want to leave my house. But they convinced me to come and check it out. This entire deal has been put together by my wife. She convinced me to give this a thought and believed that I could do it. Finally, I gave this a shot.
Do you believe in interacting with your customers?
Every successful business begins with listening to your clients and becoming perfect. What your customer wants is very important. You need to go out there first and understand. I have a success mantra. I visit every single customer to understand what they do not like. I feel they guide me to another level, perhaps something I have missed or a flavour I could enhance. I believe my best critics and most insightful teachers are my customers. In Boston in fact, we receive a thousand emails a day. I have a dedicated person who will contact me every one hour with feedback.
Have you considered experimenting with local fish like Pomfret or Bombay duck?
This is an interesting one. Frankly, the local market has a interesting choice of seafood however due to quality issues, we do not use them as ingredients. Hence we mostly import our ingredients especially the seafood. I do feel the shrimp is of good quality. The sea-water around India is warmer as compared to Japan hence the local fish meat is softer. For sushi, we require firmer fish skin which is developed in Japanese sea waters.
What do you recommend for our vegetarian and non-vegetarian foodies?
For vegetarians, I’d go with the Japanese Yam Tempura Maki. The maki roll consists of sweet potato tempura as the filling and topped with shredded crispy sweet potato. As for non-vegetarians, the Hamachi Carpaccio is what I’d recommend. The dish entails thinly sliced yellowtail accompanied by saffron sauce, crispy jalapeno, potato bits and ponzu.
462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel,
Mumbai 400013 India.
Tel NO : +91 22 6162 8000