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Five Minutes With: Shun Sato, chef

By Celia Lee 17 April 2023

Header image courtesy of Censu

When one speaks of a culinary journey, it’s often meant figuratively; few chefs can stake their claim on being truly international, whether in their experiences or the dishes they serve. But travelling goes hand in hand with gastronomy for Shun Sato, the chef-owner of a popular Japanese restaurant on Gough Street. How does this mobility contribute to a chef’s development and the fusing of different cuisines? We speak with him about Japan, brotherhood, and his meandering culinary exploration that led him to Hong Kong.

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Photo: Censu

When did your interest in food begin?

“Growing up in Sendai, I spent a lot of time helping out in my father’s izakayas. I’m passionate about Japanese cuisine, but I always had a desire to explore new cooking techniques and experiment with different ingredients, adding new elements to traditional Japanese dishes that makes them different—which wasn’t what our customers wanted.

“When I turned 19, I left Japan to explore my passion for cooking and expand my culinary [worldview]. I wanted to share my knowledge and expertise with the rest of the world. I was also eager to learn about other cultures and cooking styles, which helped me to develop a unique perspective on Japanese cuisine that is informed by a global culinary perspective.”

Ika yu daan—Censu’s take on Hong Kong fish balls. Photo: Censu

You are an avid traveller. Why is travel important to you?

“Travelling inspires me to experiment with new cooking techniques and ingredients [I encounter along the way]. By constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I am able to further grow and evolve as a chef. I am largely self-taught, although I have had the privilege of working with some incredible mentors throughout my culinary journey—at esteemed restaurants like Yoshii, Blancharu, and Ms G’s in Sydney, and [chefs] Jowett [Yu of Ho Lee Fook] and Daniel [Calvert of Belon] in Hong Kong.

“While I have been fortunate enough to travel the world, Japan will always be the most inspiring place for me. The deep history and traditions of Japanese culture have had a profound impact on my approach to cooking, and I am constantly inspired by the creativity and innovation of my fellow Japanese chefs.”

Chefs Hamasaki Ami (left) and Takano Toru (right) of Enishi. Photo: Enishi

Your restaurants partners are the friends you’ve made on your culinary journey. Why did you start a business out of brotherhood?

“Success is not achieved alone, but with the support of a team. My restaurant partners are not just colleagues, but friends who have been with me throughout my culinary journey. We share the same passion for food and hospitality, and we work together to create memorable dining experiences for our customers. 

“Starting a business out of brotherhood is more than just a business decision—it’s about creating a supportive community that fosters creativity, growth, and success. That’s why I started Enishi with [Takano] Toru and [Hamasaki] Ami—we all met in Australia as young chefs starting out in our careers. The bonds of trust and camaraderie we formed there, coupled with the fact that we have all worked around the world, means we have a similar mindset about what we need to do to create a successful culinary experience for our customers that is fulfilling, unique, and welcoming.”

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Beef tartare. Photo: Censu

What is unique about your culinary methods?

“My focus on temperature and sauce-making techniques behind the scenes bring out the umami flavours of each ingredient. By paying close attention to these small details, I am able to elevate the flavours of each dish and create an unforgettable dining experience.”

Front façade of the restaurant. Photo: Censu

What is your concept for your restaurant, Censu? And what is your experience as the restaurant’s chef-owner?

“Our goal is to provide our customers with a holistic dining experience that is fun and exciting, and which inspires our customers in ways beyond their taste buds. Every element of the dining experience matters, from the ambiance and interior design to the service and interaction with our guests. I’ve learnt valuable lessons since Censu’s opening almost two years ago. One of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of flexibility in both my skills and understanding. Being chef-owner has made me realise that there’s always room for growth and improvement, not just for me but also my team.”

Aged three-yellow chicken—Censu’s take on the coveted local ingredient. Photo: Censu

Why Hong Kong? What does the city mean to you?

“Hong Kong is a hub that attracts people from all over the world, a dynamic and vibrant city that is constantly evolving. With a rich food culture where people enjoy new experiences, the city allows me to be innovative and keep pushing the boundaries of Japanese cuisine. I also have easy access to everything I need from Japan—all of these elements have led me to building a home away from home here.

“Hong Kong has given me a lot, both personally and professionally. Its diverse food culture, entrepreneurial spirit, and sense of community have shaped my approach to cooking and influenced my culinary philosophy. To me, Hong Kong represents the spirit of innovation and hard work that has enabled me to pursue my dreams and achieve success.”

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Photo: Censu

And to wrap up, five rapid-fire questions:

What do you bring to a potluck?

“I always bring a Chenin Blanc named Keep on Punching from South Africa because it is the first wine we sourced for Censu’s opening and it’s been with us for a while. It always reminds me of how we started this restaurant from zero.”

Favourite ingredient to cook with:

“Spring onion oil—my creation. It’s an extraction, so it brings a lot of umami.”

Favourite flavour profile:

“Whatever smells good.”

Most memorable thing you’ve ever eaten:

“XO sauce fried cheong fun by chef Jowett Yu.”

What’s something you never leave the house without?

“Hair wax. It’s very hot in the kitchen and I think it’s important to always look neat and tidy.”

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.