Chef Dino Guingona

Japan’s got talent

I love my job. I staff the local food and beverage industry. As a support group for this industry, there’s nothing more gratifying than witnessing… F&B operators grow their businesses from ground zero.

Daniel Labudahon, Managing partner of the Teppan Okochi, started his career with the Rockwell land as a residential leasing officer.

As such, he was tasked to handle international business from the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.

During his nine year stint with the Rockwell land, Daniel was promoted as head of Marketing and leasing of the Rockwell development office.

He’d been a big fan of Japanese culture and its cuisine since back then.

On the side, Daniel created his own interpretation of the famous Japanese dish Okonomiyaki, which he sold to office workers.

As I recall, it was sometime towards the end of 2016 when Daniel walked into my office.

At that time, he explained to us, that he had just turned in his resignation from the Rockwell land to embark on a radical career change.

He laid out the plans that included restaurant concept, financial projections, time line and of course, staffing requirements.

My knee jerk reaction back then was a bit negative.

In hindsight, I must admit that my scepticism was both shallow and completely baseless.

There are countless Japanese restaurants all over Metro Manila.

Therefore, a new one would be just another one of the them!

But Daniel was so passionate with his presentation, that I slowly began to see where this was all headed.

His lack of restaurant experience was completely overshadowed by his drive and diligent behavior.

“This guy has great potential” I thought to myself.

Things changed rather drastically when I first met Akihiro Okochi.

A burly young man standing 5″11, he seemed rather intimidating in the outset.

He carried around with him, an Apple mini ipad that looked like an iphone on his palm! Yep, his hands were that huge.

From the very beginning, we had a big communication gap. His accent was so thick, that I ended up groping my way through our conversations.

Using an online translation app, he would read notes from English translated to Nihongo and vice versa. Problem was, the application translated much of our conversations too literally!

Try to imagine the difficulty I had to endure.

Trying to assemble a support team from scratch requires a thorough description of the ideal candidates.

Sure, we may have one of the largest Food & Beverage database in the country.

But we needed someone to guide us in the selection process! Ideally, one who could explain their needs with crystal clarity.

Otherwise, it gets tedious.

Like the proverbial “looking for a needle in the haystack!”

Once we got our act together, the synergy began to kick in.

Aside of course from Chef Akihiro Okochi and Daniel Labudahon, his core team consisted of Kitchen, Administrative and Management personnel that were fluent in Nihongo.

Trust me, those guys were not easy to find!

Okochi san had a knack for perfection.

Consequently, we had to deploy a larger than usual number of applicants per position to facilitate the selection process.

The pre-opening team had a period of roughly two and a half months to blend in and master the type of service and menu items necessary to bring in a predominantly Japanese expatriate following.

I had many meetings with both Daniel & Okochi san prior to their soft opening at the Fort, BGC.

In the course of those meetings, it began to dawn upon me that these guys were hell bent on captivating the local dining scene with the very best that Japan had to offer.

(In this short video clip, Master Chef Akihiro Okochi prepares a simple dish of mixed mushrooms imported from Japan.

Finished on a hot griddle, he deglazes the mushrooms with wine, seasons it with salt pepper and a small amount of lemon juice.

Tops it off with bonito flakes and serves it hot.)

Being promoted to Chef de Cuisine at the age of 18 years old in no small feat.

You need to be gifted. You need to be passionate. You need to be smart.

And yes, you need to be damn good, if not the very best at what you do!

Akihiro Okochi 38 is a Master Teppan Chef.

Make no mistake about that.

Two decades of working the line in Mangetsu, Osaka has given him both the confidence and technology to take Manila by storm!

Ultimately, the bigger challenges would be relegated to two things:

1. Putting together a bunch of highly qualified individuals to form a perfect team and
2. Sourcing out the best ingredients (locally and from Japan) to provide customers with the best experience possible.

I stay away from beef.

It’s probably my loss.

I heard that he serves up a great wagyu steak. But those that know me personally are fully aware that I try to keep my diet free from red meat. So, today Daniel and Chef Akihiro composed a private dinner that consisted of seafood and veggies.

The opening salvo was a refreshing cold salad of allumette-cut radish with raw sea scallops and vine ripened tomatoes from Japan.

Exquisite!

What a simple dish. All the components of a good salad were present.

Temperature, fresh ingredients, color contrast, textural contrast and of course, flavor.

I’ve never had a soy based dressing without oil or vinegar before.

There was no emulsifying agent added to give the sauce froth or body!

This one had ponzu, soy sauce and wasabi. HOLY CRAP!

That was pretty darned gooood! Much better than I’d imagined.

I’m afraid to eat locally harvested oysters for fear of food poisoning.

Also, I usually go for lightly blanched oysters with horseradish and tabasco.

Today however, Okochi san prepared plump, succulent oysters flown in directly from Japan the via IQF (Individually quick frozen) method.

He grilled those beauties on his flat top griddle and magically whipped up the best oyster omelet I’ve ever tasted!

Then came the sea scallops in uni sauce and salmon roe.

I’ll tell you this: It takes great skill to cook scallops (or any shellfish for that matter) this big without overcooking or undercooking it.

teppan-okochi-resized-70

From the moment it’s lifted away from the griddle and set on to your plate, we in the Culinary world understand the importance of timing vs carry over temperature.

To put it simply, the product continues to cook after it has been removed from the heat source.

In other words, this is all about timing!

Alleluia! The timing and precision on this one got me singing praises.

The Culinary Demi-gods were smiling at me from Heaven!

I really savored every bite of it.

By the time he brought out the main dishes,

I was already a happy camper.

Smiling from ear to ear.

The grilled mushrooms, lobster, grilled salmon, tiger prawns and Okonomiyaki were all pretty darned impressive.

I have to say that everything they prepared were done so in seamless fashion.

There’s no doubt in my mind.

Teppan Okochi is destined to succeed far beyond everyones expectations.

I dare say that this is quite simply, the most exciting restaurant to enter the Manila culinary scene so far this year.

Thank you for coming to Manila, Okochi san.

Thank you Daniel, for bringing him over.

I’m loving every moment. Your success is our success.

I love my job.

“We have only one life on this planet. Hug your loved ones, enjoy laughter, sip good wine and nourish your soul with great food”.

Chef Akihiro Okochi

一期一会を楽しもう 素晴らしい食事とワインを共に

大河内 章弘

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