Chef interviews

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Thank you

Yoshiharu Kakinuma

Interviewed May 2014

Q How long have you been cooking professionally?

A. I am a third-generation sushi chef, so I have been around food, cooking, and specifically sushi, my entire life, but I began cooking professionally 17 years ago. 

Q. Where did you train to cook?

A. Although my father and grandfather were both sushi chefs, I did not do my training under them. When the time came that I said I wanted to also be a professional sushi chef, my father wanted me to train under someone else, to broaden my knowledge, and to make it on my own so I could feel truly accomplished in my own right. I began working at a small Japanese restaurant in Kyoto, Japan. After training there for 2 years, I met Master Chef Yoshitake and moved back to Tokyo to train under him. I then moved to the U.S. to gain experience cooking for different audiences, and to improve my English. I loved my time in the U.S. because one of my favorite things about being a chef is to introduce my food and culture to a new audience. After that, I moved to Hong Kong to open the first Sushi Yoshitake outpost, Sushi Shikon. I was excited for the challenge of successfully recreating an authentic Ginza style sushi experience outside of Tokyo. I am so proud and excited every day that we have achieved our goal.

Q.  How would you describe your style of cooking?

A.  Since I grew up in Tokyo, my style is traditional edomae style sushi. Because this is a traditional style that is not to say it can’t still be innovative or evolving. We adhere to a traditional style, but we often experiment with texture, flavor combinations because we are constantly striving to make it better, to be better.

Q.  Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?

A. People, happy people who smile, and are good at teamwork. Every restaurant from quick service to fine dining benefits immensely from a team that works seamlessly together.  Some other consistent qualities amongst the most successful restaurants are: fresh high quality food, solid attention to preparatory work, and cleanliness.

Q.  Do you have a "signature dish" or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?

A.  Our signature dish at Sushi Shikon is our Steamed Abalone with Abalone Liver sauce. This is a magnificently unique dish. The first time I tasted it, it was transcendent. I especially love making this dish for diners who have never tried it, who say “I didn’t even know abalones had a liver!” because the look of surprise and joy on their faces makes me very happy.

Q.  Do you have a favourite ingredient?

A. Dried Kelp is one of my favorite ingredients. It is so versatile, but I use it for aging and marinades. It really adds a hefty amount of umami to a dish, and can really elevate flavor. 

Q.  Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off? 

A.I really enjoy going to Amber inside the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. I’ve met the chef, he’s a nice guy and their ingredients are consistently very fresh and creative. I truly love their signature sea urchin.

Q.  What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?

A. Recently, I was visiting Sushi Yoshitake in Ginza, I was behind the counter with Chef Yoshitake and he mentioned to one of the customers, “He (meaning me) is from Hong Kong.” The guest assumed Mr. Yoshitake meant from Hong Kong, and he immediately began speaking Cantonese to me. I was so embarrassed, I tried to tell the gust in Japanese that I speak Japanese, but then he thought I meant additionally, and he complimented me on how good my Japanese is. I didn’t want to embarrass the diner, so I had to spend the rest of the evening pretending to understand him in Cantonese.

Q.  What would be your "last request" dish? 

A. Sushi is not just my work, but it is my favorite food and my life- so my last request dish would have to be very fresh high quality sushi.

Q.  Is there another chef that you most admire? 

A. There are so many chefs doing such great things. I most admire Chef Yoshitake. He taught me so much, and has always been so warm and has always seen the potential in me as a chef. In addition to admiring his manor as a mentor, I aspire to his level of attention to detail- this is my goal.

Q.  Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?  

A. If someone tells me they want to become a chef, I tell them that the most important thing they need is passion for the profession. I tell them they have to have a candle in their heart and they need to fan the flames and show me their fire. Passion for this profession is the number one indicator of success. 

Q.  Any final thoughts you'd like to share e.g. new developments at the restaurant?

A. We’ve recently began accepting reservations for lunch. We’re taking reservations of parties of 4 or more, and the price is about half of our dinner menu. This is a great way for interested diners, not ready to commit to dinner,  to try the restaurant, and is also a great opportunity for business meetings, as we also have a private room that can be used prior to lunch for a presentation, or for diners looking for more privacy.