Adam Liaw, television celebrity and winner of 2010 MasterChef Australia, was in Canberra last week for a special ceremony at the Japanese Ambassador's Residence in Yarralumla. Liaw has been rewarded by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for his significant contribution to the promotion of Japanese food culture in Australia. He joins 12 other appointees worldwide who are being honoured for their contributions, including the esteemed Sydney-based Japanese chef, Hideo Dekura.
In his presentation speech, Japan's Ambassador to Australia, Mr Sumio Kusaka, noted that Washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013 and said it was a timely coincidence that Australians had been introduced to the essence of Japanese cuisine by Liaw through his television series, Destination Flavour Japan, that same year.
'Mr Liaw travelled all over Japan and introduced the true sense and taste of traditional Japanese food culture to his Australian audience. By doing so, he has taken the understanding of Japanese cuisine in Australia to a whole new level,' Mr Sumio Kusaka said.
'I like to think that Mr Liaw's experience of living in Japan sparked an interest in the connections between food and culture. Among the many culinary experts who introduce Japanese cuisine in Australia today, Mr Liaw’s familiarity with Japanese food, language and culture is a fitting qualification for being a great Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador,' he concluded.
Half Chinese, half English, Liaw was born in Penang and moved to Adelaide, where he worked as a lawyer before being offered a position with a firm in Tokyo. He says he moved to Japan, not knowing one word of the language and not understanding anything about the culture. 'It was very embarrassing for the first few years,' he explained sheepishly.
One of the first meals that he tried to cook for himself in Japan was a prawn and pasta dish, and he had to run around to about 15 different supermarkets looking for the 'ordinary ingredients' that he needed to prepare that familiar dish. It was then that it dawned on him that he was not going to be able to survive in Japan trying to cook the exact same way that he had been accustomed to in Australia.
He spent the next few years trying to learn as much about Japanese cuisine as he could. This included attending classes to learn the Japanese language and spending his weekends travelling all over the country visiting different markets, farms and restaurants in an endeavour to learn about Japanese food.
'Every time I went somewhere new in Japan, it was always an interesting experience for me,' he said. Having only eaten sushi in Adelaide and Tokyo, he said he loved exploring various sushi restaurants, meeting the sushi masters, and learning about the different styles and different ways of preparing the food.
It was then that his interest turned to a passion. Visiting a sushi restaurant that his Japanese wife, Asami, grew up eating at, Liaw asked for a particular species of fish. The sushi master looked out the window and said, 'Given the weather today, the boats won't be bringing any of that in.'
'To me, the idea of having that much of a connection to food that you were serving in your restaurant that you could understand by looking outside whether or not that ingredient would be available was fascinating.'
His soon to be released cookbook will be on the much-loved subject of Japanese cuisine. Keep an eye on this space on Adam Liaw's web site.
Liaw, who is about to travel overseas to film another TV series, said that he was truly honoured by his appointment as Japanese Cuisine Ambassador and noted that this is the first time that people outside of Japan have been included.
It was honour for me to attend the ceremony as an invited guest of Japan's Ambassador to Australia, Mr Sumio Kasaka and his esteemed wife. There was a reception following the presentation with a stunning array of Japanese dishes, prepared specially for guests by the chef to the Ambassador. Sadly, I had to dash to another event and could not partake.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.