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Chef Tetsu Yahagi

The Chef de Cuisine of the legendary Spago Beverly Hills has a talent for finding his way - between languages, countries, and cuisines.

For Chef Tetsu Yahagi, the problem was one of language. “They’re beautiful…[but] very challenging from a chef’s standpoint. The plate speaks its own language already…I have to find a way to match the art and be cohesive with it.” Luckily, the Chef de Cuisine of the legendary Spago Beverly Hills has a talent for finding his way - between languages, countries, and cuisines.

Whether lending his mother a hand with sashimi in the kitchen, learning California cooking page by page, or studying French cookery under Michelin chefs, Yahagi navigates them all with the fluidity of fluency. It was a talent that was evident to Wolfgang Puck and led us to a bright day in the private dining room of Spago with Yahagi thinking about the sea. Presented with the black, flowing geometrics of the mobile Bernardaud “Calder”, he was reminded of tackle lines, fish hooks, and his inspiration came to shore with the idea of lobster…while we were reminded that this is a chef who has his art down to a science.


Tell us a little about your creative process in the ‘Art of Plating’ challenge. How did this specific plate inspire what you prepared?
I can’t hide the pattern on the plate, so I have to find a way to make a dish that kind of showcases the art and at the same time, my food. This mobile – the Calder that Bernardaud makes – it reminded me of fish hooks and tackle line so I wanted to do seafood. A lobster dish. Now, lobster already has a red color so I wanted to go with the black. I liked that the lines and the garnish have the same kind of pattern.

How does the way you plate and present a dish play a role in the type of environment you want to create in your restaurants?
Between plating and the atmosphere that we have at Spago, we try to achieve very pretty plates with an organic look and feel. So we tend to stay away from the articulate plates. We concentrate more on the warmth of the plate.

Can you provide some tips for people preparing and plating at home? Young chefs?
My tips to young chefs or people cooking at home is think of the people who are eating it. Not just the visual but how they would practically eat the dish. Making sure you have the correct proportions of sauce, ingredients, and right temperature.

Bernarduad Calder Plates

How do you think culinary artistry compares with other arts?
We use all the senses. Visual, taste buds, sometimes even things like the sound of sizzling meat on the sauté pan, and of course, smell.

Tell us about your creative process when creating a new dish or menu.
It involves bringing in my heritage. I’m from Japan and there are a lot of great ingredients and techniques that we have, and then what I learned from Wolfgang Puck, and try to synchronize those two to come up with a new dish.

Do you have a plating style?
My style is more about making the food look good and at the same time sending the guest a message. For example, I put my sauce next to protein so that we’re sending the guest the message that they will be eaten together. And in Japanese cooking, we plate food in a very three dimensional way. Western food is more spread out usually whereas Asian is more built up. I try to combine the two.

You started cooking with your mom as a child. What is the difference between cooking with your mom and cooking with Wolfgang Puck?
I don’t think there is much of a difference between cooking with my mother or cooking with Wolfgang, because if there is somebody you want to please through cooking and you’re passionate about it, there isn’t much difference. But I’m hoping I’m a better cook than when I was six years old!

If you started your own restaurant, what would you serve?
Japanese barbecue

If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Soba noodles

What do you think of the term celebrity chef?
Something that has nothing to do with me!

Fast food guilty pleasure?
In-N-Out burgers

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’ll probably be doing this in another life too!

Visit Chef Tetsu Yahagi at Spago Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210