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Bringing Japanese Cuisine to the World:

Nobu Sydney's Head Chef Harold Hurtada On His Odyssey to the Harbour City

By Orlaith Costello
October 11, 2023
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By Orlaith Costello
October 11, 2023
  shares

"Chefs are not born; they are made."

Nobu is a brand recognised worldwide for its high-class Japanese dining destinations from New York, Cape Town, Dubai and the latest outpost in Sydney at the Crown in Barangaroo. A truly international affair, Nobu headlines local produce while always heroing its core Japanese leaning with some Peruvian influences. 

Head Chef Harold Hurtada was transfixed by Japanese cuisine from an early age. He began working as a sushi chef in his home city of Manila before joining the worldwide Nobu Restaurant Group — for whom he has held positions worldwide before taking on Australia.

As you arrive at Nobu Sydney, you are greeted with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Darling Harbour and sleek cordoned-off table settings, creating intimate dining experiences within the large open space. Walk past the marble bar and find the main omakase room. Here, you can witness Chef Hurtada’s and his team’s skills up close and personal.

The omakase menu is an exclusive addition to Nobu Sydney’s core offerings. It is an opportunity for Chef Hurtada to showcase the skills he has perfected in his years of training.

Alongside the ever-changing omakase menu, Nobu Sydney offers a range of sake, premium wines and spirits. Accompanying this offering from Monday, October 16, until Thursday, November 16, all dinner seatings will be served a complimentary chrysanthemum martini made with Haku Vodka — a craft spirit from the House of Suntory. 

Together with Haku, we sat down with Head Chef Harold Hurtada to chat about his journey to Nobu Sydney and the exclusive Haku Omakase menu available this spring.

THE JOURNEY TO NOBU

You started working as a kitchen hand in a Japanese restaurant in Manila. Now, here you are, working for an international brand in the glistening blue waters of Barangaroo. What was your journey to being head chef at Nobu Sydney?

“I started out washing dishes in a sushi restaurant in Manila. I loved working in the sushi bar and dreamed of becoming a master sushi chef, but one of my team told me it would not happen because I am left-handed, and the sushi knives (yanagiba) are only sharpened on one side. But that didn’t stop me from putting my goal into action. As the saying goes, chefs are not born; they are made.

It took a lot of determination and skill, but thanks to the dedicated team at Nobu who helped me hone my skills, including my teacher, I achieved my dream. I had a great sushi master as my teacher. He trained me and my Sushi Chef, Jephte Tagod, in the signature Nobu style. After 13 years working in Nobu, I am always blessed to meet talented and exceptional people who lead my career to grow strong.”

Where did your own passion for cooking, particularly Japanese cuisine, come from?

“I have always loved seafood. My passion for being a sushi chef drove me to be the best and improve at every opportunity. Now, I have travelled the world and love putting my passion for food into all my dishes.”

Nobu Sydney got off to a rocky start (opening during the pandemic). What has changed since then?

“Opening Nobu Sydney was challenging because it was the only Nobu opened without a task force team, just me and a sous chef. Training the team in the Nobu style and letting them understand the concept of Nobu was the key to building a strong team, which I have now.”

AUSSIE PRODUCE, JAPANESE FLAIR

What does the omakase menu mean to you? What opportunities does it present you with?

“The word ‘omakase’ means ‘chef’s choice’. It allows you to share your passion and skill as a chef. I love the challenge and opportunity to share skills with my team and our guests. It’s amazing to bring people together over a dining experience.”

Could you share your process for selecting courses, sourcing and choosing ingredients?

“As most Nobu dishes are signature, choosing quality products is always the key. Sydney has the best produce and ingredients you can find. Only the best in-season produce is used to create Nobu’s signature dishes and our sushi with a twist.”

Japanese culinary traditions are deeply rooted in culture and history. How do you incorporate these traditions into your omakase menus while adding your unique twist?

“With these, seasonally fresh ingredients must be selected and prepared the Nobu way, with the Japanese base cooking and precise skill in making sushi with a twist. When making dishes, I am always inspired by deconstructing the dish itself but not making it complicated, instead making it simple and letting the produce’s quality speak for itself.”

Japanese cuisine is known for its precision and attention to detail. How do you ensure that every dish at Nobu Sydney reflects this level of craftsmanship?

“As the head chef, it is my responsibility to be the leader of my team. I am entrusted with keeping up with all the Nobu’s signatures and trends.

As a sushi chef, I always ensure that dishes are up to guest expectations and continue to strive for excellence, directing my team daily and showing that cooking a dish for a guest is like cooking a dish for your family.”

Can you talk me through this special omakase menu?

“I am very proud of this special Haku Omakase menu. It is inspired by all my years of hard work and experience brought together in one. For instance, it took me 16 years to develop the special lobster dish on the menu. It has mushrooms and asparagus, then freshly cooked lobster meat, mentaiko aioli sauce that is scorched and then dressed with the lobster tail.

I have been waiting for the right moment to showcase these dishes, and it will be only here in Nobu Sydney.”

ZEN HARVEST HAKU MARTINI

Nobu is pairing the bespoke spring omakase menu with a complimentary martini made with Haku Vodka. The bartender, Aldo, wanted something different that still delivers a Japanese aesthetic that flows with the menu.

“The teas in the martini are designed to give a calming effect to relax and put your mind at ease when starting the omakase menu,” Aldo remarks. “The martini is not too strong to overpower the delicate kingfish but gently balances the red chilli with its slightly sweet tea syrup.”

His mother made chrysanthemum tea every night, and he made chamomile tea every weekend while studying. So he combined the two to make a concentrated syrup representing calmness and Zen, leading to the cocktail’s name: Zen Harvest.

Ingredients:

30ml Chamomile tea-infused Haku Vodka (infused for exactly one hour)
30ml Hokusetsu Junmai Ginjo ‘71’
10ml House-made chrysanthemum and chamomile syrup
Two dashes of orange bitters
Ice
Grapefruit peel garnish

Method:

Infuse the Haku martini with Chamomile Tea for exactly one hour, then strain. Add tea-infused Haku Vodka, chrysanthemum chamomile syrup, sake and two dashes of orange bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir down. Strain and garnish with sakura-cut grapefruit peel.

Nobu Sydney is serving its bespoke complimentary Haku martini with its omakase menu from Monday, October 16, until Thursday, November 16, for its dinner seatings on Monday — Thursday. 

Haku Vodka’s signature serve is the Haku martini — a drink that showcases the craftsmanship, nuanced flavour and exceptional quality of the premium Japanese liquid. To learn more, head to the House of Suntory website.

Images: Jude Cohen

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