Interviewed July 2021
Q How long have you been cooking professionally?
A. 26 years.
Q. Where did you train to cook?
A. I’m a third generation sushi chef, so I grew up immersed in sushi. But it is not traditional to work for your family restaurant without experience at other restaurants, so first, I joined the team at one of Tokyo's top omakase restaurants. For four years, I immersed myself in the technique of edomae - a style of sushi invented in Tokyo 200 years ago. The more I understood, the more I realised that sushi would be my life's journey. After a year back at my family's restaurant, I looked to expand my knowledge beyond edomae. I took on a position at the restaurant NARITA in Nagoya City, 340km west of Tokyo and home to one of Japan's most revered sushi masters Akitoshi Ohno, a protégé of Jiro Ono. I spent two years there honing my craft. In 2006 I was approached by the London-based restaurant Zuma regarding the position of Head Sushi Chef. I was curious about the idea of moving to the UK and, after a few weeks in Spain, I arrived in London to meet Chef Rainer Becker, the creator and founder of Zuma, Roka and Shochu Lounge. I discovered that Rainer had a deep understanding and profound respect for Japanese culture. We shared a vision of a more modern approach to traditional Japanese food with an uncompromising desire for quality. In 2007 I took up residence in London. At Zuma, I learnt how to grow my style and tailor it to specific nationalities and tastes.
Q. How would you describe your style of cooking?
A. I would describe my style of cooking as balanced and restrained with a clarity of flavour. My philosophy is to keep things simple and try not to touch the ingredients too much, but consider every tiny detail. The ingredients are always king. When creating a dish, I look to nature. What is in the garden? What is in the forest and the mountains? I do not look at passing trends or what’s on social media. The produce comes first. I smell it, taste it, then decide how it will be served. We serve a 20-course omakase menu at Endo at the Rotunda and an a la carte menu at our new restaurant, SUMI.
Q. Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
A. Dedication, leadership, resilience, time and training. The Japanese spirit of omotenashi, it’s also important to note how we speak and present ourselves to guests. Every detail should be considered, from music to our scent-free sanitiser. Do everything you can to create an immersive, multi-sensory dining experience. Most importantly, always put your guests first. Imagine a circle you have the guest first then the product, then the team, they are all connected.
Q. Do you have a "signature dish" or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
A. Probably ‘My Business Card’ - we take whichever part of the tuna is best that day and cut it finely. We mix it with spring onion, three types of soy sauce, rice from Yamagata Prefecture, wasabi from Mt Amagi and serve it in nori from the Ariake Sea which is lightly toasted. It’s a dish I’ve been serving since my Zuma days.
Q. Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
A. I love the River Cafe - Rose Gray from the River Cafe was my mentor. Rose was a regular at my Zuma sushi counter, and she invited me to her restaurant one day. Showing me around the kitchen, I was in awe of her respect for suppliers and her unwavering dedication to the season. From that day, I returned to work as her apprentice each Sunday on my day off for an entire year.
Q. What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
A. It’s been a very long journey, and it would be hard to pick one experience. But I would say the day-to-day emotional connection with guests, is something that constantly amazes and interests me. Some guests have actually cried with joy during their experience! Each and every person has their own story, I feel so lucky to be able to establish these connections day in day out.
Q. What would be your "last request" dish?
A. My father’s sushi. It would take me back to being a child and unlock some great memories. Growing up, on Saturdays we would have raw mackerel, seaweed rice and tuna rolls. Memories are so important. That’s why we give guests tea and chopsticks to take with them when they leave. We want the experience of dining with us to last in their memory.
Q. Is there another chef that you most admire?
A. The Japanese chef Hajime Yoneda. He has three Michelin stars at his restaurant Hajime in Osaka. We know each other and are the same age. I have great respect for his technique, mentality and hospitality. He’s also helped the Japanese hospitality industry negotiate with the government during COVID. I admire him for taking action and supporting his industry.
Q. Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
A. Don’t run before you can walk. My master said never to give up; the same rice cooked in the same way can be different each time; life doesn’t always go to plan, but you have to persevere. Give it time; time is always teaching something. No mistakes mean no experience. It took me 24 years to feel in the right place to open my restaurant.
Q. Any final thoughts you'd like to share e.g. new developments at the restaurant?
A. Yes! We have recently opened a new restaurant, SUMI in Notting Hill, which is named after my mother. The menu at SUMI takes inspiration and direction from Japanese traditions while also paying homage to the many people and places that have inspired me on my journey. The menu celebrates provenance and the freshest, most beautiful ingredients. The style of service is more relaxed than at The Rotunda and I have my trusted chef Yasuda Akinori at the helm as Head Chef.