Sushi Masters: Hideki Yoshimoto
Hideki Yoshimoto is the executive chef at Doraku, where he strives to continually improve the menu by trying new things. He works out of the Waikiki location where he is able to use plenty of fresh local seafood and other ingredients. He comes up with creative interpretations on everything from the humble rainbow roll to tuna tataki.
We recently had a chance to ask Hide-san about his sushi and he gave us some interesting and thoughtful answers, so take a few minutes and read up!
SushiPRO: You’re from Osaka right? How does that influence your sushi?
Hide: I lived in Osaka until the age of seven, then moved to Hawaii and have resided here since. But, my traditional Japanese upbringing has influenced my cooking in respects to presentation and attention to flavors. Japanese food, especially sushi, has a very distinct sense of balance with attentions to the presentation, details, colors and the delicacy of each flavor-which I bring to my style.
SushiPRO: You live in Hawaii. How does that influence your sushi?
Hide: Living in Hawaii, there’s an abundance of sushi restaurants of many different styles and it’s very competitive. You must be very aware of the quality of fish and keeping to the local tastes and that of tourists. Hawaii is a unique blend of Asian and Polynesian cultures and this is shown in much of the food. I am always trying to accomodate to this diversity of palates and take ideas from each of their ethnic cuisines and find ways to incorporate them. Also, with tourism being an integral part of the economy in Hawaii, I take into consideration that fact. I don’t want my food to be a type that you can find in Japan, Korea, Australia, etc. I want them to take an adventure with my dishes and enjoy themselves.
SushiPRO: Iron Chef Morimoto is a famous patron of yours. What have you learned form him and how does that influence your sushi?
Hide: I have had the opportunity to cook for Chef Morimoto-san. It was a great honor-his career and style is one that I have been watching and researching. I believe Morimoto-san has taken Japanese cuisine to new heights and is one of the top pioneers in this Modern Sushi style. While he was doing the original Iron Chef show in Japan, many Japanese criticized him for his style and didn’t accept him as Iron Chef Japanese. Then, as people saw and realized his skill and talent, it opened up many opportunities for others to do the same. I was very nervous when Morimoto-san and his guests came to dine, but I did the best that I could. I even made him my version of his famous Sushi Pizza. It went over well.
SushiPRO: You use some unusual ingredients in some of your rolls, like shredded shiso leaf, can you comment on that?
Hide: The term “unusual” is subjective, but I use whatever crosses my path. I love the taste of Shiso Leaf and its refreshing quality, so I use it in many of my dishes. I also use a lot of deep fried garlic chips – you can never go wrong with that combination. I’ve been traveling a lot more with work and have had the opportunity to go places like Indonesia. I am looking forward to bringing more diversity of flavors inspired through these experiences.
SushiPRO: What is the most important thing a Sushi Chef needs to posses?
Hide: The most important thing for a Chef is to put your heart and soul into what you do. Ask yourself before you serve it to the customer, “Would I pay for and eat this if I were a customer? Would I serve this to my father/mother?”
Emotion can be conveyed through many types of mediums such as art, film, writing – this is the same with food.
SushiPRO: Can you describe the process for a new item to make it on the menu?
Hide: The process is very simple one. When I have time at work, I’ll just start combining things in my head and make it. Then I will taste it and if I like it, it will be used for my specials in Omakase. I follow basic and very important rules when I create a new menu: Texture, Color, Presentation, and of course Flavor.
SushiPRO: Do you serve sushi rolls with spam in your Hawaii restaurant?
Hide: No, I don’t want to be an advocate for unhealthy eating habits that is such an issue in America. But, it is a historic and cultural aspect of Hawaii, so for fun we participate in an annual event called Spam Jam, where they block off the main strip in Waikiki. Many restaurants set up a station to showcase inventive dishes using spam.
SushiPRO: Have you ever eaten sushi from restaurants on the mainland that are NOT on the coast? Were they better or worse then you expected?
Hide: The only place I have been to that isn’t on the coast would be Colorado. Due to it being landlocked, I was curious to the type of menu they would carry. As long as there are sushi/Japanese restaurants, getting fresh fish shouldn’t be a problem, since they are flown in and out in less than a day. These restaurants just wont have much local fish to work with, which was the case with my experience in Colorado. I didn’t really have too much of an expectation. Just like in Hawaii or any place you go, there are going to be great restaurants and bad ones. It’s all about preference.
SushiPRO: Can you comment on “naked sushi”? Do you have this in your Hawaii restaurant?
Hide: I know we do this in the South Beach location. Last time I was in Miami, it so happened Doraku was doing this event. What we see in the movies and in most places in the West is very misleading. It’s not about putting banana leaves on the body and putting rolls on it. I see it as using different colors of fish meat to creatively design art work that’s edible on the body. So, I decided to give it a try in South Beach, although I would never do it in Hawaii.
I was asked to do this in Hawaii, but I refused. First of all, this is a very misconceived practice. “Nyotai Mori” is something you see in the Yakuza movies in Japan. In Japan, most people haven’t seen this in real life, unless they are in some kind of underground organization. If I did this in Hawaii, I think not only would it offend many Japanese tourists, but it will most likely offend many of my colleagues in the industry since it’s looked down upon in Japanese culture.
SushiPRO: Any comments on the gulf oil spill catastrophe?
Hide: It is very unfortunate when these catastrophic events occur and the effects it has on our environment and for how long. Living in America, we all need to appreciate what we have and do our best to not take it for granted. Who knows what will happen in the future? Maybe one day there won’t be any fish for me to even make sushi due to these events. Over fishing and mercury levels are already a high concern and threat to our environment. We all need to do our part in having less of a carbon footprint in this world.
SushiPRO: What do you look for when you go to someone else’s sushibar?
Hide: Everything. Service, atmosphere, music, the chef, the menu, etc. Service has to be the biggest thing to me. Someone could feed me mediocre food, but if the service is awesome and makes me feel special-I would go back there again in a heart beat. I would never go back if the food is great but the service is really bad. Greeting and thanking your customers is basic service and some people cant even accomplish this and it’s shocking to me. Without the customers patronage, one wouldn’t have much of a business. It has to be ALL about the guest.
SushiPRO: What did you eat for dinner last night?
Hide: I rarely sit down and eat while at work. Once I do that, I become sleepy and can’t function right. As much as I know about eating healthy and take this into consideration with my food, I personally have very unhealthy eating habits. I rarely eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I survive on liquids like juice and coffee. Once I am done with work and I come home, my lovely wife will have something for me. Then, I can truly relax and enjoy a meal and an ice-cold beer.