The chef-founder of Tokyo-based WAGYUMAFIA has expanded his restaurant concept into Saudi Arabia with the aim to export the love for wagyu to customers across the region.
How did the idea for WAGYUMAFIA come about?
The idea came from house parties that I used to throw. I just wanted to deliver the full capability of what a product like wagyu can do. Before WAGYUMAFIA, the wagyu experience was one where you would sit for three hours and get a small portion to taste. I wanted to redefine that experience of wagyu. Wagyu can elevate your food, but a lot of people don’t do that because it’s an expensive item.
But for house parties, you don’t care about the cost…people just bring what they want to eat and they will bring their most expensive wines and food. So, [the idea of] redefining the wagyu experience and the perception of it came from a house party.
You are a self-taught chef. How did you train?
I enjoy cooking, I don’t feel any pressure because I love to cook. Since I was three, I loved being in the kitchen with my mom, learning about ingredients and techniques, cooking and eating. It helped me develop a fondness and appreciation for making food.
What are the lengths that you will go to in order to find the finest beef?
When it comes to branded cows like Kobe and Ozaki, which are already at the top of the pyramid, we use only the top 1 per cent of those high-end cows. I have visited around 250 farms and singled out around 20 farmers to work with.
I use only about five farmers regularly, though occasionally I rely on up to 15 more. From day one, I have hand-selected every cow with the farmer. Sometimes, I also select the country where the beef will go, whether that’s Hong Kong, Singapore or Saudi Arabia.
You’ve brought your concept to Saudi Arabia. How exciting is that market for you?
Very exciting. We didn’t plan to do Riyadh Season back in 2019, but it was a very last-minute decision. It was one of the most memorable moments of my career, because it was the first time we served so many first-time wagyu eaters. And that was the whole reason I’m doing this, which is to showcase this product and the entire world of wagyu. So, when this opportunity came up, I decided it’s been four years since I first performed in this region, but now I have a permanent restaurant so I can do it every day.
Which is the most exotic holiday you’ve been on?
Wadi Rum in Jordan. There was no reception or wifi, so I cancelled three meetings without any notice. There is no sound there, but you still feel an unimaginable sound in your ears. It’s just so quiet, and coming from Japan, it’s very zen. I was excited to feel a sense of zen in the Middle East.
What is your earliest memory of a holiday as a child?
It was of visiting Heron Island in Australia back in the 1980s. We were eating breakfast outside when a bird pooped on my omelette…I think I ate it anyway.
What are the three things that you always pack in your suitcase?
Swimming trunks, running shoes, and a hair clipper to cut my own hair.
How do you spend your air miles?
I have so many, I’m not quite sure how to use them. But I know they are piling up, so I should decide soon.
Which is the one travel experience you’d rather forget?
On one of my trips from Tokyo to Chicago, I ended up spending 10 hours in customs custody, and then was deported from the US and had my visa taken away. It’s a good life memory now, but at the time it was not a great experience.
Which markets will WAGYUMAFIA expand to next?
Las Vegas and Miami are next. For the Middle East, so many projects come to mind. I want to bring more of the authenticity of Japanese cuisine to this region.
(Image: Supplied by WAGYUMAFIA)