When Branca Uzur approached renowned Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda about painting his portrait for the Archibald, ‘he gave me the best compliment for my painting in last year’s Archibald’, she says. ‘He said that I had done so much with so little, so it became a real challenge for me to do even more with even less. He said he would be honoured to sit for me which was an incredible incentive.’
Japanese-born Wakuda is one of Sydney’s culinary legends. Starting his career as a migrant kitchen-hand, he trained with Tony Bilson (the subject of a portrait by John R Walker in this year’s Archibald) and Philip Challis among others before opening his own restaurants, Ultimo’s and then Tetsuya’s.
His cuisine is a unique mix of Japanese aesthetic and French technique. His menus tend to consist of small, beautifully presented, perfectly composed dishes. ‘It’s very special, a performance, a happening,” says Uzur who has eaten at Tetsuya’s once for a special occasion. The simple, clean aesthetic of his food ‘suits the way I paint,’ she says.
Uzur has painted Wakuda as ‘the serene, passionate professional, something like a samurai, I guess. He doesn’t have many facial expressions except his smile but I didn’t want to use that as it distracts from his professionalism. I like his eyes so I tried to capture them, always darting around looking for the detail. I can’t define the reason why I chose purple for the background. It’s a regal, peaceful purple, which just felt right for the portrait.’
Born in Zagreb in 1954, Uzur came to Australia in 1992. She studied painting and ceramics in Zagreb, Belgrade and Helsinki.