Sushi Profiles: Chef Yozo
The venerable owner and itamai is Chef Yozo Natsui. He was born and trained in Japan, but has spent almost twenty years in South Florida. Yes he has trained many of the sushi chefs in the area, probably in some of the restaurants you’ve frequented if you live in the area.
The first thing one notices about Chef Yozo is his demeanor. He’s typically reserved, as so many of his contemporaries are, preferring to let his cuisine speak in his place. And his cuisine speaks volumes!
This soup that we had the honor of trying is a perfect example. The rich flavors in the broth were highlighted by the depth and earthiness of the shitake, and the cleanness of the ginger. Scallop and shrimp were the featured ingredients that seemed as if they enjoyed soaking up the flavors as much as we enjoyed eating this masterful soup. It is appropriate to judge Japanese chefs on the quality of their soups, and Chef Yozo has no trouble impressing with his.
Chef Yozo was born in Kyushu, and considers himself to be a Kansai-style sushi master. He seasons his rice with a konbu-infused vinegar, and told us, “Tokyo style sushi rice is too salty.” Sushi rice is a serious issue if you’re a serious sushi chef. It’s what makes the sushi at many of the sushi bars we visit simply mediocre, despite using fresh seafood.
Yozo-san does not apply wasabi to the underside of nigiri, even to the neta that really needs it, like oily fish. We always recommend it, but he deliberately does not (like so many in America) because he’s realized over the years that most of his customers actually prefer it without. Our philosophy differs, but this decision does serve to illustrate his absolute commitment to satisfying his customers. Happy patrons are, after all, the raison d’etre for a sushi chef.
Now all sushi chefs working in America must deal with this country’s insatiable appetite for fancy rolls. Yozo-san says that early in his career, like most, he was distraught about Americans’ preferences for thick, layered flavors over the simplicity and elegance of classical Japanese sushi.
But over time it would appear that he has adapted well to finding an appropriate balance. Case in point, the madai (type of Japanese snapper) dish shown above. It is served over orange slices with a tangy citrus sauce. A dish any Japanese would enjoy, with the sauce made just a bit stronger to make it irresistible to the American palate.
Looking at his menus, they do tend to include those purely American rolls, even with cream cheese and using a variety of sauces. But a closer look reveals a bias to lighter and fruitier sauces, instead of heavier and spicier or sweeter. You can make a good living in this country serving fare covered in sweet eel sauce or kimchi sauce, but deliberately seeding the menu with mango and papaya is a terrific way to adhere to the real ideals of sushi and provide rolls that are perfect for the American palate.
Chef Yozo is preparing his plans to open a robata grill later this year, where he can serve great Japanese grilled foods. Yes, there will still be sushi, of course. We will certainly want to try his grilled food – stay tuned!