THE NORWEGIAN Seafood Council recently announced Chef Chua Kok Hua as Malaysia’s representative for the forthcoming World Sushi Cup 2018.
The prestigious sushi-making competition, which takes place today, brings together 40 of the top sushi chefs from around the world in Tokyo to battle it out for the top spot.
The qualifying competition was held in conjunction with the Global Sushi Academy training, a collaboration effort between Norwegian Seafood Council and World Sushi Skills Institute – the only officially recognised sushi body in Japan.
Chua together with 19 other participants from various Japanese restaurants in Malaysia went through rigorous training held in Malaysia.
Conducted by well-known sushi expert Hirotoshi Ogawa, they touched on topics such as mastering sushi making skills and knowledge, as well as critical concern about the hygienic handling of seafood for raw consumption.
Chua shared his experience: “The training has opened my eyes to every little detail in sushi making and I can’t thank the Norwegian Seafood Council enough for giving me this opportunity.”
His success to date was not easy, in fact, he started off not as a sushi chef but instead worked in the Chinese kitchen at age 16 at a five-star hotel in Singapore.
Life was tough though not for long when his golden opportunity came when he was offered a
position in the Japanese restaurant of the same hotel.
So why did he switch from Chinese to Japanese cuisine?
Chef Chua explained: “I grew up in a fishing village, and have a close affinity with the sea; it’s a natural choice for me. I’ve always wanted to work with fish.”
In the Japanese kitchen, he learnt about the different varieties of fish and their seasons.
Having to master a completely different skills set requires discipline and perseverance, he also had to adapt to a whole different culture in terms of food contact regulation.
After all, Japanese cuisine is built on unparalleled quality and absolute hygiene during preparation, especially when it comes to handling raw food.
“It took me four years to perfect the art of tempura and robatayaki,” he said.
Then in 2016, Chua together with his wife Lily, and fellow chef Edmund Chong started their very own restaurant named Two Chefs Lab in Sungai Long, Kuala Lumpur, offering fusion Japanese cuisine and good coffee.
“There were constant challenges but I’ve always been a proponent of life-long learning and this helped get us through.
“Now, we are looking into expanding into the second outlet in the Klang Valley,” he said.
“My wife was my biggest supporter when my business partner Edmund convinced me to run for the qualifying competition in World Sushi Cup last November.
“Never in my wildest dream did I think of winning the qualifying round as all the other competitors are much more experienced and skilful than me.”
Since then Chef Chua has been making frequent trips back to Singapore, to the restaurant he used to work for, to train under a previous World Sushi Cup competitor.
He is determined to come back from Tokyo with a medal.