by Elizabeth Kye
wasn’t always working in swanky restaurants.
He wasn’t always a master at the sushi bar,
nor does he consider himself one today, but Chef Kazuo
Yoshida is the master of ceremonies at Geisha Restaurant
of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He possesses
a keen insight into the future of sushi, and is a
bit of a contradiction- mixing the past with the present
in his culinary creations. Kazuo’s signature
style was featured at Jewel Bako, Brasserie 360, and
he continues to “wow” his guests at Geisha.
He has much to say about the business, doesn’t
refrain from sharing his knowledge, and is pretty
darn candid about his inspirations. With a smile on
his face, we sat down to talk about his career as
a sushi chef.
Elizabeth Kye: How have you
evolved as a sushi chef?
Kazuo Yoshida: I’ve been here
for 12 years now. I started as the #4 assistant to the
sushi chef at Kameda. I stayed there 2 ½ years.
Then I worked as an assistant at a restaurant called
Hasaki for 3 ½ years. When you begin as an assistant,
you are always doing side jobs. Cutting vegetables,
cleaning fish, cooking rice- you do this for 2-3 years.
Only the chef cuts the fish. I opened a restaurant called
Shiki that was only opened for a year. After that I
moved to Match in SoHo. It was the first place to combine
sushi and American food. Then I worked at Jewel Bako
for 1 ½ years where my recipes are still used.
I moved from there to Brasserie 360, and now I’m
here at Geisha.
EK: How would you describe
KY: Jewel Bako follows my style. I
made this style, but it’s their style now. Now
I must evolve and create a new style. Someone said my
food concept is sushi fusion, but I don’t feel
like it’s fusion. My concept is traditional for
2050, so what I do now will be traditional in 40 or
EK: Has New York City changed
your style as a Sushi Chef?
KY: Traditionally, sushi is too
expensive in Japan; people may eat it three times
a year. In New York, there are people who eat it three
times a week. Now Japan is following New York styles.
I create my menu for American people. People in New
York City don’t like the classics. They need
something new, a different presentation or a new taste.
I have an item on the menu, New Zealand King Salmon;
I am the first person to use this fish for sushi.
Whenever my purveyor gets some new fish in, he automatically
sends it to me. All the sushi chefs are asking him
what fish am I using. Even Mr. Morimoto of the Iron
Chef is asking me to get him things. Traditional sushi
restaurants are very 1980s, but sushi is changing.
It used to be that the fish was caught and sent to
the restaurant on the next day. Now in 2004, fish
is caught and we receive the fish the very same day.
EK: What are some things that
have inspired your creations?
KY: Fifty percent of my inspiration
comes from my customers. They tell me what they like
and what they don’t like. When I talk to my
customers I get ideas. We’re friends and we
joke with each other. Even some of my customers have
named certain dishes for me like the Kazuotini (pureed
cauliflower, diced tuna, fluke, salmon, salmon roe,
uni, quail egg, soy sauce, and wasabi, served in a
martini glass). In a traditional Japanese restaurant
customers are not interacting as much with the sushi
chef. I always ask my guests, “How’s my
sushi tonight?” They may say, “Not so
good tonight,” and I respond, “Come tomorrow,
I save my best for tomorrow.” And then we both
The other 50% of my inspiration comes from my life.
Wherever I go, the museum or the park, or playing
with my daughter or fighting with my wife, there is
a source of inspiration. One time I was fighting with
my wife, and she went to throw a snack at me, I told
her to stop, I want to use that for my sushi. It was
a shrimp cracker.
EK: What is your favorite utensil?
KY: It’s technique and experience.
You need this before anything else. A knife is an
extension of your hand. Everyone who comes here asks
me “Kazuo, what type of knife do you have?”
More important is learning how to use a knife.
EK: Have you ever worked with
KY: Yes. However the blowfish you
get in the States isn’t poisonous. Basically
it tastes the same as the blowfish in Japan, but the
difference is the sensation. In Japan, the blowfish
is poisonous. The sushi chef will cut it in a way
that a little poison is released into the fish, and
there is a slight mouth sensation when eaten.
EK: Do you have any trade secrets
you would like to share with aspiring sushi chefs?
KY: I have no secrets. I give all
my techniques and recipes to my assistants. Whatever
I know, I teach to my assistants. In Japan there is
a term for the beginning assistant, Minakai; it means
watch and learn. You have to watch and learn as a
new assistant. You have to start from the beginning.
Whatever you do, you have to remember 100 things.
You have to think about 100 things. You also have
to understand why you are doing these things. When
you understand why you are doing something, you don’t
have to remember it, because you know it. You should
always ask why you are doing something a certain way.
Everything has a meaning. My assistant, Nguyen just
opened his own restaurant called Rice, on 10th Street
and Avenue C. He understands that the “why?”
EK: What’s next for you?
KY: What I want to do next is write
a book for future sushi chefs, starting from the basics,
to the more advanced techniques- how to cut vegetables,
how to cut and clean fish. Many times I wish there
was a book I could give to my new assistants.