The Food Experience That Changed My Life


10.1 min read

If you love food, it’s safe to say you’ve had at least one amazing food experience that was a game changer.

Maybe it was when you were a kid and you remember the smell of mum’s cakes coming out of the oven. Or, it wasn’t even that long ago, eating the best street food you’ve ever tasted or a signature dish at one of the World’s Best Restaurants.

Whether it’s nostalgia or some sort of awakening experience, amazing or even simple but delicious food can have this incredible, ever-lasting effect on people.

While being by mum’s side in the kitchen watching her cook delicious stews and roasts is certainly up there in terms of food experiences that really had an impact on me, my biggest culinary breakthrough happened when I first went to Japan.

I was invited by Tourism Australia in 1996 to cook at the Australian embassy in Tokyo to promote Australian food.

First stop was a tour of the famous Tsukiji fish market. We got there around 3am finished the tour around 5am, had a sushi breakfast that finished at about 8am and by then I was totally drunk. They made us drink Japanese beer at the fish market with our sushi breakfast and I had to go home and sleep for the whole day. True story!

Apart from wasting my first day in Tokyo sleeping off a hangover, my early morning encounter at Tsukiji market blew me away.

It’s the biggest and busiest fish market in the world and also probably the most overwhelming market in the world.

There’s the inner market where the famous live tuna auctions happen and where most of the wholesale businesses are. It’s chaotic with scooters, trolleys, narrow paths and sellers and buyers hurrying around everywhere. About 2000 tons of seafood goes through the market each day. They sell everything from fresh tuna to sea urchin to whale… unfortunately.

There’s limited access for the public to the inner market now. Tsukiji’s at least 100-years-old and its infrastructure couldn’t keep up with the growing popularity. The outer market’s still a huge tourist attraction though and is filled with hundreds of restaurants, retail and food stalls.

For a while now there’s been talk about the market moving to Toyosu, Koto, to make way for a major highway for the 2020 Olympics.

The market’s located in prime real estate near the city centre and was scheduled to move in November 2016. It was then pushed back to move in June this year and has now been delayed to July 2018.

The market’s new supposed spot has had some backlash for being heavily polluted because it’s the old site of a gas plant and articles say the new market will be a quarter of the size of the original.

While reports of pollution at the new site is really bad, it should definitely be cleaned up if they end up moving the market.

Tsukiji is so authentic as it is now, but in my opinion, I think the move would be great. If they make it newer and better with better access for the public, it might be a good thing. I also hope they keep its authenticity.

We used to get our fish from the Tsukiji but now we buy it from a supplier who supplies our Tokyo restaurants SaltW.W World Wine and Salt grill & tapas bar  in Ginza with fresh seafood every day.

Tsukiji is a feast for the senses and a huge tourist attraction. All the action and abundance of fresh raw fish just blew me away when I first saw it all.

I’ve never had fresher raw fish in my life than the fish I tasted at Tsukiji. All the sushi stalls are amazing and fresh but I have one favourite counter I always go to every time I go to Japan.

When I land, always about 5am, I go straight to Tsukiji and visit my mate. He feeds me everything and anything and it’s always so good. This particular stall is famous, it’s called Daiwa Sushi. There’s always a huge queue about an hour wait.

Whether or not the Tsukiji market moves, it’s still there so you should definitely check it out if you’re heading to Tokyo soon.

That first trip to Japan was when I fell in love with Japanese food, it really steered me in the direction of my cuisine and had a big on my first restaurant Salt in Sydney.

In particular, raw fish. Sashimi is considered a delicacy in Japan. It has a subtle flavour that’s absolutely beautiful, has a delicate texture that melts in your mouth and its bright colours all make for a very unique eating experience.

I love sashimi so much I could eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner. We have a kingfish sashimi dish with ginger and feta that’s been a signature dish on all of our restaurants’ menus for years. It’s such a great dish, easily my favourite of all time.

Before my first trip to Japan, my cooking was heavily influenced by the traditional French techniques I learned from Michel Roux in London. I came back and opened CBD restaurant, and while I was at CBD, I went to Japan and that’s when the influence really kicked in.

I’ve travelled to many countries, immersed myself in many cultures and tasted many cuisines but for me Japanese is always my number one.

We have some amazing Japanese restaurants in Australia but my favourite is Sokyo at The Star, Sydney. Chef Chase Kojima is doing some incredible sushi there. He used to work at Nobu and just opened Gojima Burger, which is such a great concept. It’s a casual, contemporary Japanese restaurant serving really creative and tasty sushi burgers. If you haven’t been, you should definitely check his restaurants out.

Japanese food is so prominent these days. It’s everywhere from casual restaurants on almost every street corner to fine dining establishments on the Word’s 50 Best list, like Narisawa at 18 and Den at 45.

Japanese is also very healthy, consisting mainly of rice, fresh, lean seafood, and pickled or boiled veggies and the people are some of the longest living in the world. Studies have even linked their longevity to their healthy diet.

Not only has Japan’s cuisine had a big influence on the world, their people and work ethic have too.

The Japanese are very disciplined, precise and master whatever they put their mind to. I admire how hard they work, the respect they have for each other and the dedication they have to sticking to one thing and perfecting it.

In Japan, if you go to a tempura restaurant, all they do is tempura. Same goes for ramen, yakitori or sushi.


Sushi chefs dedicate their lives to slicing raw fish and perfecting the rice. If you’ve never seen Jiro Dreams of SushiI highly recommend it. This amazing documentary will give you a great insight into what it’s like to be a sushi master and dedicate your life to your passion.

About 10 years ago now I did a TV cooking series called Appetising Adventures and one of the episodes were in Tokyo. I ate sumo wrestler food and made soba noodles, which was a nightmare because I wasn’t skilled at all.

But during filming, I learned so much and developed a profound appreciation for the skills and hours of practice one needs to put in to perfect even the most basic of Japanese foods.

Japanese chefs treat their work like an art form, and I very much believe that’s what cooking is… an art form.


It just so happens to be Japanese cuisine was the catalyst for my own cuisine and the creation of most of the dishes you see on our menus today.

What food memory or experience sparked it all for you?

TravelMinhky Le