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27 Questions: Shun Sato, chef and owner of CENSU

Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date.

Since arriving on our shores almost seven years ago, Shun Sato has gone from strength to strength, helping open and helm key restaurants (Belon, Ho Lee Fook and Fukuro, to name a few) that are now integral elements of the Hong Kong dining scene. CENSU has been a delicate affair years in the making, and despite the hustle and bustle of pre-service mania, there is an air of serenity that surrounds Sato. 

“Cooking runs in my family. My father owns an izakaya. He still works there. He didn’t like me helping him, so my background training is actually in French cuisine,” he laughs. 

Dishes at CENSU

CENSU feels like a portal into another world. From the unpolished walnut table to the curve of the washi lamps, there is a gentle, rustic touch to the place that whispers of days past, and days yet to come. Sato is eager to share the concept of wabi-sabi, a wholly Japanese concept centered around transience and imperfection.

“Everything is simple. Natural. Nothing is perfect yet. I want the focus to be on the main product – the dishes,” he reflects, “A few of my customers have booked for two or three times already next week. They said that they have missed my food. I am very thankful.”

CENSU is currently in its soft opening phase and will officially open on 15 July 2021.

28-30 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong
+852 2997 7009

Chutoro tuna at CENSU

Name: Shun Sato
Age: 37
Neighbourhood: Tung Chung
Occupation: Chef and owner, CENSU

1. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?

Chef Jowett Yu’s ‘mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork’ dumplings. It’s his mother’s recipe and it was a way that she could sneak vegetables into his diet as a kid. They taste like home cooking even though they are world famous now. 

2. What is your drink of choice?

Natural orange wine. It’s the first thing I ask for at a restaurant. La Cabane has a bottle I really like called ‘Staring at the Sun’ by Momento Mori. It’s a fiano blend and is super aromatic and tropical. 

3. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?

I live in Tung Chung in the green. I look out at the mountains. It’s like being outside of Hong Kong. I’m not a city person. 

4. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Definitely a morning person. I wake up at 6am every day. My daughter wakes up at 5am so I’m actually lucky to get that extra hour in bed.

5. What is your greatest fear?

Nothing really, but I hate insects. Even mosquitoes. 

6. What was your first job?

When I was a kid, I earned pocket money by cleaning my grandmother’s house in Sendai. It was a big place! I cleaned the garden, raked leaves and cut the grass. Elements of her house have been incorporated into CENSU. The exposed wooden beams in our dining room are a nod to her home.

7. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? 

I get really seasick so I rarely take the star ferry. During the protests, I had to get to Tsim Sha Tsui and the MTRs were a nightmare, so I was forced to take the Star Ferry and then make my way to Tung Chung from there. It was a long ride home!

8. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

New sneakers or fashion drops. I can’t help but snap up the special editions.

9. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own?

Up to 200, but recently I sold a lot of limited edition sneakers. Opening a restaurant is expensive! My sneaker addiction actually helped me raise the funds to launch CENSU.

10. What is your typical Sunday like?

100% family. I bring my daughters to the park or to a movie. Sundays are days for whatever my daughters want to do. It’s a valuable day. 

11. Where do you go when you want to be alone?

I get a foot massage or acupuncture. I probably go twice a week. 

12. What is one movie everyone should see?

Leon.

13. What’s your favourite childhood memory?

Going camping with friends in Japan. We would cook rice in bamboo over our campfire. One of my friends would fish for our food. We would go several times a summer. I have such fond memories of that time. 

14. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?

They know everything!

15. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?

The smell of natural cedarwood in Hiba. We treat the wooden beams in CENSU with this essential oil. It’s a relaxing scent. 

16. How often do you prepare your own meals?

I don’t! When I’m not at CENSU, I don’t cook. My helper or wife cooks for me at home. We have induction plates at home and as a chef, I just can’t get used to it. 

17. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Natto with egg yolk on rice. It’s a simple dish but I can’t get enough of it. In Japan we consider this dish to be good for health. We believe it cleanses the body and fights cancer. It’s also high in protein.

Natto rice via 8-Low Ural

18. What is your best dish?

I can’t choose my best dish… it would be like choosing a favourite child. I spend so much time developing every recipe so they’re all incredibly important to me.

19. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?

Chef Haru in Blancharu in Sydney. He is my mentor. He used to tell me, “guests come to the restaurant to experience something special. It’s their day. We have to do everything we can to make them happy”.

20. Do you have any favourite tattoos or special birthmarks? What is it?

My tattoos are all related to family. The date my beloved grandmother passed away is on my back. I was in Sydney and I didn’t make it home to say goodbye. She was incredibly important to me. 

21. What would you do if you won the lottery?

I’d give it to my mother. She spent so much time and money on me. I feel like no amount of money in the world could repay her.

22. What was the best gift you ever received?

CENSU. I have a few investors and their support is the greatest gift I could wish for.

23. When did you feel that you ‘made it’?

It hasn’t happened yet!

24. What’s your favourite tradition?

Whenever I go back to Japan, I go to my Dad’s izakaya and cook with him. He doesn’t really want to work with me, but it’s important to me.

25. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

I got married.

26. When was the last time you felt starstruck?

I catered for Angelina Jolie when she was filming in Sydney. She chose my restaurant for her and her children. I made roast chicken and vegetables, with fried rice for the kids. She was so kind and charming.

27. What is your life motto?

Be honest and grateful. Always say thank you. 

Sandra Kwong
Features Editor
A perpetually hungry individual paired with an acute dirty martini obsession. You'll catch Sandra waltzing around town from gallery openings to various happy hours. Usually waxing lyrical about her 10-step skincare routine or her latest gadget. Currently missing: long ski runs in Hanazono.