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Photo Credit: Peter Pioppo

Makoto Okuwa
MORIMOTO
88 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(888) 354-8842

Recipe »

Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? Who inspired you to become a chef?
Makoto Okuwa: I was a bad boy. I wanted to either become a carpenter or a chef. But I had an allergy to the outdoors so I chose to be a chef. Also, my mother inspired me. My grandmother used to teach a cooking class.

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Makoto Okuwa
MORIMOTO | New York


Biography
Morimoto Chef Makoto Okuwa began his culinary career at the age of 15 working in sushi restaurants in Japan. He relocated to the United States to work at the acclaimed Sushi Taro in Washington, D.C. He was recruited to work at Morimoto in Philadelphia and has held the top Sushi Chef position for the past year. When Chef Morimoto opened up his second eponymous restaurant in New York's Meatpacking District, he brought Okuwa along to oversee the new restaurant's sushi menu. Okuwa's creations combine elements of traditional Japanese sushi-making with ingredients, flavor combinations and presentations that appeal to the sophisticated, contemporary American palate.

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Interview Cont'd
AB: Did you attend culinary school?
MO: No, I didn’t go to school. I do recommend school to broaden your knowledge. I hire both cooks with and without culinary school backgrounds.

AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
MO: Of course Chef Morimoto is a mentor for me—not just the cooking. It’s more about how to read the customer and what’s going to make him appreciate your food. I learned a lot about presentation from Chef Omai.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MO: I think looks are very important, but taste is more important. I want to make my customers feel warm, in a way.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
MO: I like nitrogen, basil seeds, and shooters, which people usually use in desserts, but which I like to use in savory.

AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
MO: I like to use dried scallops and dried shrimp juice to make sauces and gelees.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MO: My Nenox knife, which is made of great material and looks good too, though it’s very expensive.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
MO: I make stocks the traditional Japanese way, like a dashi. I take seaweed, dried bonito flakes, and I’m very careful about how I extract the flavor. For example, I experiment with how long I leave in the seaweed before taking it out, to get the best flavor.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MO: How long have you worked with sushi? And, what do you want to learn here?

AB: What tips would you offer a young cook just getting started?
MO: Focus on the fundamentals, not just understanding superficial things. Try to grasp the essence of what you’re doing.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MO: Senmon Yuri’s Japanese Cooking Magazine contains a lot of new information, techniques, and trends. And Keep It Simple by Alfred Portale has a lot of great techniques too, and style. He knows how to make the ingredients come alive.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
MO: I like to go to Spain to see new techniques and flavors, and I really want to go to England to eat at The Fat Duck.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants in your city?
MO: Wakamaru has really good sushi. And this noodle bar in St. Mark’s called Momofuku.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
MO: The Spanish influence is growing very quickly: new techniques as well as tapas portions.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
MO: I’d like to own my own restaurant.

 

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  •    Published: September 2006

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