Chef Q&A for BBC Good Food ME online for Japan week

Name: Numeriano Ligaya

Job title: Specialty Outlet Chef

Restaurant: Benihana

Please give as much detail as possible in the answers, avoiding one or two word answers.

1.What food are you craving right now?

Grilled salmon with rice and a side of vegetables – any dish with salmon is my favourite

2. If you could only have four ingredients in your cupboard what would they be?

    ·Soya sauce – it’s a very versatile ingredient I’ve been using all my career

    ·Sake – it’s not just a great drink, it’s also a great ingredient to cook with especially in sauces like teriyaki

    ·Ginger – it’s a very healthy and refreshing ingredient; I like to boil water with ginger and drink

    ·Garlic – good for reducing high blood pressure and it’s such a simple ingredient but adds a very tasty flavour and aroma to dishes

3. What’s the most useful culinary technique or skill and why?

In my job, Teppan skills and wok skills are very critical. Teppan skills are important because that’s the basis of Benihana and every now and then, I have to relieve some of the members of my team and perform the Teppan show myself. Wok skills are great because it’s the fastest way to cooking, i.e. stir frying.

4. What’s your most memorable dining experience and why?

It was the first time I had dinner with my wife and daughter when we moved to Egypt. I had been there for almost a year before they moved over. My daughter was just a year old. We had buffet dinner in Reef Oasis Resort in Sharm El Shiekh. It’s very memorable for me because it was great to have my family join me after living alone for quite some time. I still remember exactly what we ate because of how special that occasion was.

5. What is the thing that most home chefs get wrong when cooking Japanese cuisine?

It’s very easy to get the “done-ness” wrong. For example, when searing tuna and steak on the Teppan grill.

6. What’s one kitchen implement you could not live without and why?

Chopping board and knife – they’re like an old married couple. They go hand in hand. They’re the first implements we use in the cooking process.

7. What’s your guilty food pleasure and why?

Chocolate – I could eat a lot of it but I know that I must not because of my health.

8. What’s the biggest misconception people have about being a professional chef?

There are times when people still think being a chef is not an important job. They don’t realise how much work goes into creating dining experiences for guests. It’s something like “he’s just a chef” type of belief. This is a misconception I had myself before I entered the profession.

9. If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

I would not have stayed in the catering line for as long as I did. Once I entered the hotel industry, I saw so many opportunities to grow and I wished I have moved out of catering sooner. With each rank I’ve grown up to, I have learnt a lot each time. It’s not healthy to remain in a comfort zone without any personal and professional growth.

10. What do you like most about your job?

I get a lot of chance to be ‘hands on’ at work and I like that the most. I truly enjoy cooking so I don’t have an approach where I stand back and just give out orders. I actually like to demonstrate and coach my time using a ‘hands on’ approach.

11. How did you start out in the food industry?

In my first year in college in 1984, I started working part-time in a Chinese restaurant just to earn some pocket money and support my studies. My interest grew from there.

12. Do you cook on your days off? If so what do you cook?

Yes I do – I cook some special Filipino dishes that my wife has a craving for, or when we get home sick.

13. What’s your favourite thing to cook and why?

Grilled or pan-fried salmon with a seasoning of salt, pepper, soya sauce and garlic because it’s my favourite dish. It’s easy to cook yet so flavourful.

14. What is your favourite Japanese food to cook, and what advice would you give to home chefs trying to attempt it?

Sushi. It’s important to have the right texture and temperature of the sushi rice. It is the foundation of the dish and if not done right, can totally alter the outcome.