Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

The Tenmasa tempura legacy: from grandfather to father to son

Posted by Kimberly on September 9, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 9, 2007, page (1,287 words)

There are many reasons to be fascinated by Yoshiaki Hashii’s continuation of the Tenmasa legacy. There’s the tempura restaurant itself, an institution in Tokyo, Japan. There’s the history that ties the restaurant tradition over three generations. Finally, there’s founder Masaji Hashii’s notebook, containing frying instructions and recipes. Of course, this was the most fascinating as no one outside of Hashii san’s family has laid eyes on it.
“When I was born it was already decided by my grandfather that I would take over the family business,” said Hashii san.
“So when my grandfather passed away he passed the notebook to my grandmother for safe keeping to give to me when I grew up,” he added.
Not that the tradition followed first from his grandfather to his father and now to him, was necessarily wanted by Hashii san.
“When I was a child I was against my father and grandfather and I didn’t want to take over the business,” he said.
According to him, tempura is a very ordinary food in Japan with plenty of restaurants. So while Tenmasa itself was of a high calibre, the style was common.
“At school the students always used to call me ‘son of a tempura restaurant’ because they thought the restaurant was very common and low level,” he recalls.
“So I was always faced with this paradox. On the one hand many people think tempura is common and cheap but Tenmasa is a very high quality restaurant.
“I was embarrassed of the situation,” he said.
Yet once he started to run the restaurant, he added, seeing the clientèle that came through the door made him realise how different it really was.
“So I was very happy and decided to become a tempura chef. Now I will be one until I die,” he said.
Hashii san explains that the tempura style is very simple, only flour and oil, “but that’s why the technique is very important.
“The ingredients have a simple taste but the chef is making the tempura so that taste is evident. That’s why the technique is important.
“Something like 0.1 second can make all the difference,” he said.
Which means he knows exactly when to take the tempura out of the frying pan.
With a 75-year history, Tenmasa has welcomed many a celebrity and VIP including some of history’s most interesting individuals, such as Charlie Chaplin, US General Douglas MacArthur and Mahatma Ghandi.
Asked why he had chosen to open the first Tenmasa outside of Japan, in Macau, Hashii san recalled efforts made by Dr Stanley Ho in the past.
“He liked the taste of Tenmasa very much and used to come to our Tokyo restaurant all the time,” he said.
“Since my grandfather’s time, Dr Ho used to invite him to open a Tenmasa in Macau but he refused him.
“My father also rejected his proposal. Because at the time there wasn’t the skill, knowledge and technology to bring the fresh Japanese food to Macau. That’s why it never happened.
“Dr Ho used to come to Tenmasa for over 40 years and he used to bring his son, Lawrence Ho,” he added.
Through this initial introduction, a relationship and friendship developed. So that when a third proposal was put to Hashii san, and with technology now advanced enough, he agreed.
“I knew he was aware of the Tenmasa taste and the quality. I feel he has a very good taste for Japanese food.
“That’s why I decided to open a restaurant in Macau, just to help Mr Ho,” he said.
With both his grandfather and father having passed away, the choice was ultimately his to make, and two issues that concerned him, retaining quality and having worthwhile staff, have both been solved.
“I think both my grandfather and father would be very proud of this restaurant. Three months ago I invited my grandmother and mother to Macau,” he said.
“My grandmother is already 85 years old but both of them were very pleased with the restaurant. As long as I can provide the same quality as the Tokyo Tenmasa, that’s the only issue,” he said.
In the end, he said, it doesn’t matter if you are a VIP or a man off the street.
“According to the Tenmasa policy, everybody is a VIP, no matter how famous someone is.
“But usually the VIP will bring along their own friends so the room is full anyway. I’m a little intimidated by some of the famous people,” he said.
What intimidates him even more is flying. Coming to Macau requires a big decision but as his restaurant grows in popularity, and patrons want to meet the man behind the name, it’s a fear he’s going to have to overcome.

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