Chef Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida has always been known for going down non-traditional routes, always carving his own path and deviating from the norm when it comes to cooking. While he’s been trained in making sushi, his methods often stray and involve a sense of play and fun that differentiates his dishes from other straight-laced sushi restaurants out there.
“Some people say what I’m doing is not sushi, but I don’t care,” says Hatch. “But if you always concern yourself with what other people are saying about you or compare yourself to what other people are doing, then you can’t differentiate yourself and there’s no point opening a shop.”
That was the philosophy in mind when Hatch and his team opened the brand new Hashida Private Dining at OUE Social Kitchen, which sees him exploring new ingredients, techniques and presentation, with a constantly changing omakase menu, assuring diners of a surprise should they come for repeat visits. Following an experience there we caught up with Hatch over tea at Hvala, and took the time to find out more about his philosophy as a chef, and what keeps him going.
2020 has been a particularly difficult year for the F&B industry, and Hatch certainly hasn’t been exempt from the crisis. His original restaurant, Hashida Sushi at Mohamed Sultan Road, was forced to shut down in April after investors pulled out during the circuit breaker period. But while most of his team were lost for a while, they quickly found an alternative in the form of Hashida Private Dining.
“We were jobless after the restaurant closed, and asked OUE if they were ok with doing this collaboration,” says Hatch. “They agreed because they knew the brand, and gave us the go-ahead. They were worried about whether my brand was recognisable enough, but still trusted us and gave us the go ahead. Even though there was a lack of budget, I responded that I liked challenges, and showed them how resourceful I was when it came to getting things like ingredients or crockery to make the experience happen.”
Hatch isn’t just playing around though, and learnt from one of the very best – his own father, renowned master sushi chef Tokio Hashida, of the renowned Hashida Sushi in Tokyo. Hatch is also a graduate of Japan’s top culinary school, L’Ecole Tsuji Tokyo, and even expanded the brand to San Francisco, USA.
“My father was born in Hokkaido but I grew up in Aomori, and before university I came to Tokyo,” says Hatch. “When it comes to food, I always make what I want to eat. And I always want to experiment with different ways of doing things. Sometimes the investors don’t understand, and end up asking me to do things that aren’t in line with my philosophy. I’m just glad that right now, we have so many opportunities to design new menus, plan what’s next, and cater to all these people who’re coming to dine at Hashida Private Dining.”
On how sushi has changed from the past, Hatch cites how expensive ingredients are these days: “Fish is a lot more expensive nowadays. Not only because of COVID-19, but because there’s now a lot less fishermen, oil is more expensive, and so is transport. We really can’t compare how things are now compared to the past.”
And if it’s a surefire way to annoy Hashida, it’s when customers come in with a set idea of what they’re about to eat, and refuse to try what he’s prepared. Often, these customers are stubborn in their approach, and narrow minded in their thinking, preventing them from exploring new ideas and tastes Hashida and his team engineers.
“Sometimes it’s quite surprising for people to enter private dining. People complain, they come in with expectations and aren’t able to immerse themselves in the experience,” he says. “Back when I was 20, I also met some rude customers, who were apparently quite high up in their companies. I told them no need to pay, and just get out. There’s so much importance to have mutual respect when dining!”
His devil-may-care, rockstar attitude towards dining is certain a polarising one, winning him fans who can handle and appreciate it, and turning away those unwilling to let themselves into Hatch’s world and try his cuisine as he designed it. But with his new restaurant slated to open at Amoy Street somewhere on the horizon and a very successful run of his ongoing private dining venture, Hatch seems destined for still-greater things to come in future.
“I think about this story of Picasso, a woman goes into a cafe and sees Picasso. She approaches him and asks if he would draw a portrait of her. He takes only five minutes, and asks for five thousand francs. She is surprised at the price because of how little time he took to sketch her. But he instead replies ‘no, it took me my whole life’,” says Hashida. “In the same way, it takes years for a chef to do what he does, to build his brand and reputation and grow a business. Even then, I’m still learning, and still trying new things I haven’t tried yet. That’s at the heart of what I do, and something I always hope that people appreciate about my food, and come along on this journey with me.”