I have been dying to talk to the team at
Kambei (in Ballarat’s Main Road) for weeks
– a daunting prospect as my Japanese is very
bad. Lucky for me, Shinji Chaen’s English is
Suzi: Konichiwa Shinji. Tell me, what does Kambei mean?
Shinji: Yukata, our chef/owner, named the restaurant after his great-great-grandfather, Kambei. He lived 150 years ago and was the leader of his village in feudal Japan. He was much loved by all the villagers. Yukata hopes the restaurant will be equally loved by the Ballarat locals.
Suzi: Just quitely, it is. Where did you and Yutaka first meet?
Shinji: We worked together for four years at Shoya in Market Lane, Melbourne, next to the Flower Drum. Shoya has had chef hats for many years. We worked very hard together and had many good times.
Suzi: Did you train to become a sommelier in Australia?
Shinji: No. When I was 20, I started work in a very big hotel in Japan. I didn’t know much at all, not even what a G and T was. Slowly, I learnt whiskies, wines and many new things. When I left there, I had knowledge of over 200 wines and 20-plus types of saki.
Suzi: What do us Aussies like to drink with our Japanese?
Shinji: Our customers are often having Japanese for the first time and they like to stick to a drink they know. We sell a lot of white wine — Summerfield sauvignon blanc is very popular. It’s very good and a clean, fresh taste, especiallly with dishes like tempura.
Suzi: Are there many businessmen getting boozy with saki shots?
Shinji: We are offering a saki tasting for $12, not to get boozy, but to offer customers a chance to enhance and develop their knowledge of saki. Customers can try 30ml of three types of saki, all from different regions of Japan and using different grades
Suzi: Do you have a favourite Victorian winery?
Shinji: I love Summerfield, especially for their red, and also Warrenmang — Luigi’s wine is very good. Actually, Yukata and his wife, Mayuko, were married at Warrenmang.
Suzi: What do you like to cook at home to go with that red wine?
Shinji: I love pasta — I make a Japanese pasta.
Suzi: Do you mean noodles?
Shinji: No, it’s a pasta made in Japan called nato pasta. It’s made using fermented soy beans.
Suzi: What’s your favourite recipe?
Shinji: I fry a little onion, bacon or ham and eggplant, add a little soy and olive oil, toss with pasta then sprinkle with spring onion.
Suzi: What’s your food philosophy?
Shinji: I believe we should prepare everything traditionally or classically and not by cheating or cutting corners. It might be more difficult, but has a much tastier result. I like simple flavours — not too modern or too much fluff.
Suzi: Who is an inspiration to you?
Shinji: I worked at the Lake House with head sommelier Tom Hogan and he has so much passion for wine and liqour. I have completed the introduction to sommelier course, but he has completed the masters course — not many people in Australia have passed this course.
Suzi: What do you miss about Melbourne?
Shinji: I really miss having somewhere to go after work, like The Supper Club, with nice wine and small tasty dishes after 8pm or 9pm.
Suzi: So finally, where’s your favourite place to grab a bite?
Shinji: The Forge.
Shinji: I do brunch at L’espresso. I love the
Suzi: If you went for Japanese, where would
Shinji: We love Kazuki’s in Daylesford — he is a great chef and a great person.