Executive chef of Kohantei, Dubai’s first and only Japanese beef kaiseki restaurant, Hisao Ueda, talks the challenges of sourcing Japanese wagyu and how he overcomes them.
Located in Downtown Dubai near Dubai Opera, Kohantei is the UAE’s only Japanese fine dining keiseki experience. The traditional restaurant serves up delicate and elegant dishes using the finest produce, personally sourced by Hisao Ueda from Japan.
Talking about his experience of sourcing sought-after ingredients that are hard to find in the UAE, here’s what chef Ueda shared…
Tell us about your journey so far as a chef – have you always worked in Japanese kitchens?
Yes, I started learning the art of Japanese cuisine when I was just 17 years old and since then I have only ever worked in a Japanese kitchen. I came to Dubai in 2011 and this was my first time working outside of Japan.
Tell us about some of the premium ingredients featured on the menu at Kohantei and where they come from…
Our wagyu selection is vast, today we have five different breeds of Japanese wagyu and one from Australia. I personally visited the farmer in Japan to know how the cows are reared – each of our grades has an original character and story. Even from the same grade and marbling score of the beef, the flavour and texture can be very different.
Also, fresh seafood and vegetables are shipped from Japan twice a week. I often travel to Japan just to meet with the suppliers, so I trust their quality of products.
Did you find it easy to source suppliers in Dubai for these ingredients?
For the last few years, many suppliers in Dubai have started importing Japanese ingredients so it is much easier than seven years ago when I first came to Dubai. But especially for fresh ingredients, I only use suppliers who I can trust, this is important for me to keep consistent quality. Unfortunately, I can’t go to fish market in Japan every day to select what I would like to import, but we have great partners that ensure we have the best there is to offer. Meeting with suppliers often is important for me to help them understand well what I need for my dishes.
Japanese wagyu is still not easy to get in Dubai. We buy a whole cow and slaughter in Japan the UAE halal way. There are only two slaughterhouses that can do it in Japan. It takes 1.5 to 2 months after confirming our order.
Which suppliers do you use to source such fantastic products?
We do not use just one supplier. Each wagyu beef, seafood, vegetables and other ingredients are from different prefecture and suppliers. I am very determined to use new ingredients and there are so many all-around Japan. When I find interesting products in Japan, I always speak with the supplier and consider how to import to Dubai for us.
How regularly are your fresh ingredients such a vegetables, beef and fish brought in from Japan?
Fresh ingredients such as seafood, vegetables and fruits are coming to our kitchen twice a week by air freight.
Japanese beef is an advance order to Japan, where the cow needs to be prepared for us.
Was it a challenge to find a halal certified wagyu cattle farm in Japan to supply beef here?
The most difficult part is the slaughtering process. There are only two slaughterhouses which are approved by the UAE and the domestic transportation is not easy from the farms for due to long distances. Also, the slaughterhouse’s facility must be suitable for UAE halal regulation. Much of the feed used at farms includes non-halal ingredients, so the supplier in Japan has to carefully select our cow and prepare halal certificated feed for exporting to Kohantei in Dubai. These are part of the reasons why Japanese wagyu is such a premium price in UAE. Yes, it was challenging for us to open Japanese wagyu concept restaurant, but the Japanese government and suppliers support us very much for having Japanese wagyu in Kohantei, we couldn’t open this restaurant without their support.
Do you offer any ingredients at Kohantei that are rarely found on any other menus in Dubai?
Other than our Japanese beef, seasonal seafood such as flying fish, puffer fish, pike conger, or edible flower and fresh water chestnut in the seasonal vegetable category are our special ingredients and are changed depending on time of year.
Looking ahead, do you have any exciting happenings upcoming at the restaurant in terms of new ingredients and menu changes?
At the start of the summer season in Japan, we will be having more fresh products especially vegetables. Our Kaiseki menu will be adapted to incorporate summer ingredients.