This is one of the few times that reading TripAdvisor’s reviews just isn’t going to cut it before a week-long foodie tour of Japan.
Think like an apprentice chef who wants cultural immersion and to doorknock top restaurants in Japan then elbow their way into kitchens for a skills session or three. Menu testing behind the scenes, yes! Of course, you’d want to tour of the famed fish market. And no aimless wandering through Kappabashi aka Kitchen Town, a world-renown shopping district for the hospitality industry and chefs. You’d be lost among an array of pottery, knives, plastic food displays and catering equipment.
Any self-respecting fledgling chef would want a chaperone.
And here’s how two 19-year-old apprentice chefs got their chaperone from heaven – Tony Scimonello.
He’s a Australian chef and hospitality management expert with extensive professional working experience in Japan. Tony was a consultant/project manager for the revamp of Japan’s White Beach Hotel in Shimonda and the US Air Force Base at Yokota. He was executive chef/corporate service manager for Fidelity Securities, then general manager for Suji’s Hospitality Corporation and Vision – all in Tokyo – and ran his own catering company there for a time. These days his main gig is flying in and out from his country Victorian home to be a top chef at an offshore oil refinery in Western Australia.
But Tony’s got another gig as chaperone for the winner of the Wisenet International Learning Experience Scholarship. This year’s contenders were of such high calibre, Wisenet, a learning software company, couldn’t decide between the two finalists so handed them both a scholarship award. Those teenage apprentice chefs are Ben Caulton, who works at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’ School, and Alison Collins from Plenty West End, both of Brisbane, Australia. Plenty is an organic eatery and food market that’s keen to connect city communities with regional farmers. Ben and Alison received the award on Friday 27 October and jetted off to Japan the next day – with chaperone Tony – for a vocational education and training ‘flavoured’ experience.
The decision to double the prize money at the last minute was a biggie, but it actually came at a nifty time to celebrate a major milestone. This year, Wisenet notches 20 years in business. They’re an industry leader in offering a complete cloud solution for training providers.
Wisenet funded the scholarship award, which the Skilling Australia Foundationadministers. The foundation aims to help disadvantaged young Australians who have started or will soon start an apprenticeship or traineeship. It works closely with the WPC group. The award goes to students who satisfy one of the following: experiencing financial hardship, are a woman in a non-traditional trade, hail from a non-English speaking background, have a disability, identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island, come from a regional/remote location and have relocated or a low socioeconomic status.
So, without giving too much away about which of those Ben and Alison ticked, they’re planning to check out the restaurant featured in the blockbuster Quentin Tarantino film, ‘Kill Bill’. You know, the one where the top of someone’s head gets chopped off? The only chopping the Aussie scholarship winners will see or do will be in the kitchen involving food. Also known as Gonpachi, the restaurant has exquisite décor and its Kill Bill link has attracted hundreds of overseas and local celebrities. Probably not high Japanese cuisine, but a cultural drawcard anyway.
Cultural immersion is what chaperone Tony will be offering, too. He’ll be their guide for sightseeing, Harrajuku, Shibuya, Ometasando, Meji Jinguae Shrine, the ancient Sensō-ji Budhist temple – Tokyo’s oldest – and Yoyogi Park as well as menu testing and skills observing. Ben and Alison will check out culinary skills at top restaurants, Two Rooms Grill Bar as well as Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse & Bar. The students will taste-test rice crackers, mochi (a Japanese ricecake) and soba noodles. They’ll also tour the famous Tokyo fish market, Tsukiji, the largest of its kind in the world. It’s the fresh fish, produce and knife stalls that this mini tour group will hone in on. The market offers 480 different types of seafood and each day a massive $14.6 million of seafood is sold. This market’s for the die-hards. To get onto the tuna auction observation tour, for example, you need to register by 5am with the first tour 50 minutes later, and another shortly after. Ben, Alison and Tony will chomp down on super-fresh sushi for their breakfast that day, too.
At the end of the trip they’ll take a cruise on Tokyo Bay, the Sumida River and take in the Harumaki Gardens with its manicured cypress trees and teahouses in the shadow of the city’s skyscrapers.
Ben says: “This is awesome, the itinerary looks really cool and I am excited to be able to observe the culinary techniques of masters in Japan.”
As young chefs, Ben and Alison are set for an amazing adventure in Japan, with one of the world’s “most interesting and sophisticated cultures with food at its core”, says Wisenet cofounder Kim Yelland.
“The first thing that struck me about [them] was their passion for preparing food for others – an essential ingredient for our aspiring chefs. Both presented a compelling case about their desire to explore new cuisines and develop and appreciation of world food culture,” he says.
Just as well they’re doing it with a chaperone.