SUMILE | New York City
Thirty-one-year-old Josh DeChellis is an unlikely advocate
for Japanese cuisine. At Sumile, Josh’s respectful
approach to his art results in original dishes that are both
clean and purposeful. As a teenager eager to earn money for
a new snowboard, Josh began working at a local New Jersey
restaurant and learned first-hand what really great food tastes
like. His broad range of culinary experience includes working
alongside Wolfgang Puck at Postrio, as well as with notable
chefs David Bouley, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
But DeChellis cites Alain Passard of the famed L'Arpege in
France as his biggest influence, and the one who turned him
on to the elemental concepts favored in Japanese cooking.
Poached Hamachi with Pickled Melon
and Nori Salt
Chef Josh DeChellis of Sumile – New York, NY
Adapted by StarChefs.com
Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 ripe cantaloupe
- 2 ounces Muscat de Beaume de Venise
- 1 ounce yuzu juice
- 1/2 ounce elderflower syrup
- 1 ounce rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon yuzu kosho
- 8 1¼-ounce slices of hamachi
- 1 ripe avocado
- 2 sheets nori
- 1 Tablespoon kosher or maldon salt
- Sansho pepper for dusting
- 1 quart grapeseed oil for poaching
One day before serving this dish, peel and seed cantaloupe and
reserve all the juices from the seed sacks. Carve the flesh
into 1 ½- inch strips and then slice each strip crosswise
to make ¼-inch thick slices. Make 20 slices and reserve.
Boil Muscat de Beaume de Venise and let cool 20 minutes.
Take remaining melon and place in a blender with the yuzu
juice, elderflower syrup, rice vinegar, yuzu kosho, boiled
Muscat, and any juice collected from the cantaloupe seed sacks.
Puree in a blender and adjust seasoning to make a nice sweet
and sour balance with a spicy aroma. Place in a sauce pan
and bring to a simmer for 1 minute.
Once simmered for one minute, strain through a fine mesh
sieve or cheesecloth over a bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the
clarified juice, bring down to room temperature and pour over
the sliced melon. Leave mixture in a tightly covered container
in the refrigerator until the next day.
The next day, place grapeseed oil in a shallow sauce pan and
bring to 110° F. Season hamachi fillets with a light dusting
of sansho pepper and place in oil. Pull sauce pan off direct
heat to avoid "cooking" the bottom side of the hamachi.
Peel avocado and cut in half; then cut into 1/3-inch slices
and dress slices in melon liquid.
Lightly toast nori sheets over a flame without scalding them,
and then grind in a spice grinder until broken down into little
pieces the size of Maldon salt.
Remove 2 teaspoons of toasted nori and mix with Maldon salt.
Grind the remaining nori pieces into a fine powder and reserve.
Once warmed through, remove hamachi fillets and blot with
paper towel. Season with nori salt. Mix 2 Tablespoons of melon
liquid with nori powder until the consistency is that of a
light syrup and check seasoning.
Arrange hamachi, avocado and melon slices on a plate and then
drizzle sauce with melon-nori jus.
worked alongside some amazing chefs – Wolfgang Puck,
David Bouley, Charlie Trotter, Jean-Georges. Who would you
say is your primary mentor? Why?
JD: The person who has
left the heaviest mark is Alain Passard at Arpege (in 1997).
American chefs at that point, and still a majority of them
in my opinion, created dishes with an ego in mind. How many
things they can do to a dish? For Passard it was all about
simplicity - bad-ass French products and how they are cooked.
A good piece of salmon, to him, was perfectly cooked like
a good piece of meat. He’d work a little bit of fleur
de sel mixed with a subtle spice, plate it next to cabbage
gently cooked in butter. The food was so much superior to
anything I’d ever seen, and that changed me forever.
He cooks in a very Japanese style, very elemental, using raw
products. People always ask me how I got into Japanese food,
and it’s because of Passard.
AT: Based on your experience
working abroad in France at Arpege and Lucas Carton, as well
as in Japan, do you think it’s important for young chefs
to get experience cooking overseas? Why?
JD: I definitely have
issues with cooks traveling. Even at the time I was working
at Arpege, I would see famous or soon-to-be-famous American
chefs eat there and talk to Passard, and 6 months later, I’d
open up Gourmet or The New York Times, and I’d see exact
replicas of what I saw in his kitchen. Passard doesn’t
accept American stages for that reason.
AT: What’s your
JD: My philosophy started
with Alain Passard, but Japan without question is my biggest
inspiration. A lot of people don’t understand enough
about Japan to understand what that means. People think it’s
just wasabi, soy, sushi and sashimi. A truffle can be treated
in a Japanese style. What resonates in their culture –
in their language, their architecture, is respect. When it
comes to cooking, that respect is paid to Mother Nature. That’s
first and foremost, anything else that’s added or anything
that’s altered with a natural ingredient is done so
slightly and with such reason. I find that cooking to be very
elemental, and I really strive to prepare food that way.
AT: Who do you consider
your peers in the industry? What chefs do you most respect?
JD: I tend to gravitate
toward other chefs that not only take pride in their cooking
but the chefs that, at some point during the night, are smiling
when they are working. That’s what cooking is to me
– you have to concentrate, but it’s fun. And the
thing about being a chef is the need to share and be hospitable.
Zak Pelaccio at 5 Ninth, for sure. He just loves it. It’s
written all over his dishes. Galen Zamara down at Mas. Shea
Gallante – when I eat his food, I feel differently than
when I eat Zak’s food – you feel the seriousness
of the food and him. Wylie Dufresne – I have so much
respect for his drive, his energy, and his commitment to his
profession. And the direction that it’s taken him in.
He’s doing off the hook, crazy things. He’s made
this huge bridge between commercial cooking and fine cuisine
- the chemicals, enzymes, and emulsifiers - he’s applying
them not to a candy bar so it can sit on a truck or a shelf
longer, he’s applying them to fine cuisine. Talk about
AT: I know you use a
lot of exclusive ingredients, mostly Japanese. What is your
favorite “secret” ingredient? Why?
JD: Really good tomari
style soy sauce – it’s brewed for a really long
time. As far as my favorite ingredient, it’s got to
be nori. There are all different kinds of nori and there’
s just something about it. It’s just seaweed dried and
pressed into sheets. Good nori is dried out on wood so that
with the sun and the wood, it picks up this smoky, toasty
flavor but tastes fresh at the same time. I love all the different
forms you can make it into – pureed, powder, fried,
you can wrap things in it. I love it.
AT: How do you keep
food cost in line with all your imported specialty ingredients?
JD: I welcome anyone
to ask me that – last month it was 26.3%! But the reason
why it is so low is you have to work for it. You can’t
let the purveyors tell you what the price is. I went down
to the market last week, and all of I sudden I realized, I
shouldn’t be paying that extra 25 cents a pound for
halibut. With fish, for example, it’s important for
chefs to go to the market. Most of them are out drinking until
that time anyway. Going to the fish market, you just find
things, like bycatch - look at that 25-pound corvine that
popped into our net. Since it’s a bycatch, it’s
not that expensive and it’s a beautiful fish. That’s
a night’s worth of fish at some restaurants.
AT: What is your most
indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JD: Sharp knives are
really important for so many reasons. You can find the perfect
piece of fish, but if you don’t have a super sharp knife
you’re going to ruin it. You’re trying to disturb
as few cells as possible while separating them. Knives that
are dull, even German knives, the blades are too thick. They
start out thin, but then at the top they are too wide to go
through many things.I’m on my third Misono UX 10 –
it’s the longest slicer that they make. It’s made
of stainless steel and carbon. A lot of Japanese knives are
just carbon - a softer metal compound that you can get really
sharp. But since I use it for a lot more than just fish, I
found the UX10, because it has a bit of stainless in it, it
keeps its edge longer. But because of the carbon, it is relatively
easy to get like a razor. I use a variety of different grades
of waterstone to sharpen my knives.
AT: Is there a culinary
technique that you have either created or use in an unusual
way? Please describe.
JD: Back in ‘96
or ‘97 when I worked with Chef Lucas Carton, I saw a
life-changing technique – it was sous vide. I couldn’t
believe it when I saw it. Wolfgang [Puck] paid for my stage
out there, and I had to come back to Postrio and show them
all the things I learned. So I came back and couldn’t
wait to show them this technique. But we didn’t have
a Cry-o-vac machine. And they weren’t going to spend
money to get one. So I thought back to CIA in pastry class-
we’d wrap plastic over sheet trays and pop in them in
oven. And the oven would shrink the wrap. So I just wrapped
the chicken in plastic wrap and threw it in a super hot oven
to let the plastic shrink around it and form the hermetic
seal I wanted. This way you don’t have to add fat, but
it’s not steaming, so you’re not loosing flavor.
I tried it and it was unbelievable. So I do that at Sumile
now - I call it the Poor Man’s Sous Vide. And I think
it’s a really great thing for even home cooks to know
AT: What advice would
you give to aspiring young chefs?
JD: The first restaurant
you choose to work in should be one chosen not only on the
range of cooking techniques and food prepared on a daily basis,
but also a style that suits you at that point. I believe the
first restaurant you work in, to be beneficial to you, you
should work there for 2 years at least. Two years is a long
time. So you better like the style.
AT: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line
JD: Where have you eaten
your favorite meal? Not just because of where it might be,
but when they answer I can gauge how they connect with food.
If someone tells me they went to Alain Ducasse in Paris and
everything was really good, the bill was high, but the food
was great, well ok.
But if someone said they went to this Chinese restaurant and
the dumplings kicked ass because the dough was rolled really
thin, you can see this person is really exited about food.
That’s what I look for. Because that’s how I feel.
I’m consumed by food. It’s important to have those
kinds of people in a kitchen – to keep that energy around.
AT: What are your favorite
cities for culinary travel? Why?
JD: I just got married
in September – we went to Italy for our honeymoon –
Rome , Florence, the Italian Riviera. It was really cool because
I got to see real Italian food. I’m excited to go back
to Japan. I’m going to Tokyo and Okinawa. Apparently
Okinawa has food that is completely different form the rest
of Japan. I can’t even articulate how exited I am. I’m
AT: Where are your favorite
restaurants to go in the city?
JD: My favorite restaurants
are 5 Ninth – the food there is so damn good. Zak doesn’t
try to knock your socks off with stuff, but you can tell he’s
stoked to have you there. He serves you this rough, cut up
half-cured sausage. Also Karuma Zushi for sushi (47th St.).
The scungilli pasta at Arturo’s – it’s my
guilty pleasure. And Bouley because it’s downtown, easy
to get to and the food is always really good. It’s my
own little escapism. I’ll shoot down there for lunch,
turn off my cell phone and have a food and wine experience
that’s top notch. I feel like I should be paying them
extra for that therapy.
AT: Tell me about the
biggest challenges you faced in opening up your own restaurant.
JD: This is the first
restaurant I’ve opened and the whole thing was a challenge.
The people who opened this restaurant were all in the entertainment
business - none of them opened a restaurant before. They didn’t
have any interest. They gave me a rolodex with attorneys’
names and said go ahead. I learned so much. The real estate,
liquor licenses, everything you could possibly imagine. My
biggest challenge within the challenge was persevering.
AT: So do you see yourself
doing more of these?
JD: Without question.
I can’t wait to do more. I learned from my mistakes.
But I know if I really just want to open an oyster place in
a 500 square foot place, I can do that. And I can do it more
AT: What trends do you
see emerging in the culinary industry?
JD: All the toys definitely
– the combi-steam and sous vide.
AT: Do you think these
gadgets are helping things along?
JD: Not necessarily.
I went to Zak’s (5 Ninth) for dinner, and the last course
he served me was a chicken. The way it pulled apart, the skin,
it was amazing. So I asked him how he cooked it. He said,
“Dude, I roasted it!” And that totally spun me
around in a different direction. At Union Pacific we had the
sous vide. The food is perfectly and evenly cooked through,
but it has no soul, no backbone. I’m into natural, organic,