By Franz Scheurer
Every now and then, I meet someone who is truly great, an evolved spirit, and a master at what he or she does. These people tend to have a profound influence on me, the way I think and sometimes, the way I act and they give a gift of immeasurable value and worth.
One such master is Hideo Dekura.
Hideo-san was born in Tokyo and learnt Japanese cooking and customs from his late father, Yutaro Dekura, his late brother Kenhyo Dekura and his mentor, Mr. Shishikura, the founder of Shijyo Shinryu, a famous and esteemed traditional cooking school. All three were great cooks and had a profound influence on Hideo-san. His father taught him home cooking, according to family tradition, and Mr. Shishikura ceremonial Japanese cooking, which is founded on the beliefs of Shintoism. (Shintoism is a native Japanese religion with the cornerstones of nature and ancestor worship.)
Hideo-san worked in his father’s family restaurant and studied the “Cooking Knife Ceremony” the specialised art of preparing food for the tea ceremony, as well as the art of calligraphy and flower arrangement. The Japanese have always been renowned for “eating with their eyes” but Hideo-san is an absolute master of presentation.
From there, he travelled the world, settled for a while in France, to study classical French Cuisine, and, in his words, “to do a little mountain climbing”. Anyone who has conquered the Eiger Northface, one of the most treacherous ascents in the world, does a lot more than “a little mountain climbing”, but this kind of understatement is typical for the man. An overachiever in every sense of the word he in one of the world’s great gentle souls.
These days Hideo Dekura runs a successful catering company in Sydney, holds lectures, seminars and cooking demonstrations all over the world, and is the author of several books and instructional videos.
I have had the privilege to attend a number of his classes and learnt more in a couple of hours than ever thought possible. Hideo-san only knows one way to do things: perfectly. There are no half measures, never ‘it will do’ or, as he has learnt a lot of the Australian idiom, “she’ll be right, Mate”. The attention to detail is incredible and he does it all, calmly, with humour and a smile. He believes that the mood of the cook translates directly into what one does and therefore affects the food. His way of cooking is not just about technique, taste, texture or presentation, but also about state of mind.
I have watched him prepare some ancient dishes in my wood-fire oven using more than 3000-year-old cooking techniques. Labouring for hours to prepare a few perfect morsels, wrapped in clay, perfectly shaped, decorated, and cracked open for the diner with ceremony and dignity to reveal unimaginable perfume. A visual, textural feast and a lecture in a culture we do not know enough about.
Hideo-san is also a bit of an enigma. Ultra traditional, (he’s likely to appear in full ceremonial garb to a Australian function) he nevertheless loves fast cars, rides motorbikes, is interested in modern Western art as well as ancient Japanese swords and has a keen eye for beauty, be it inert or organic. We can all learn from his gentle way with people, his respect for nature and his love of perfection.
Hideo Dekura, I salute you!