Chef Sawako Okochi of Lani Kai - Biography

New York, NY

December 2011

Raised in Hiroshima, Japan, Sawako “Sawa” Okochi spent years cooking and helping prepare family meals alongside her mother. But when it was time for college she decided to move far from home to the United States. Her first stop was Texas, where she studied and worked as a server—and got her first glimpse at back-of-the-house craft and magic. The chefs she worked with inspired her to trade in her server’s apron for chefs whites. In 2000, she moved to New York to attend the New York Restaurant School.

New York has had her ever since. Okochi worked under Anita Lo at Annisa for five years, moving up the kitchen ranks to the position of sous chef. It was at Annisa that she developed her personality and passion as a chef and slowly began to merge her identity as a Japanese woman in an American kitchen. Her next move was as chef de cuisine of Good Fork in Brooklyn. After more than four years, Okochi ventured out on her own, launching the Otakara Supper Club as a fun pop-up summer project.

Most recently, Okochi took over the kitchen at Julie Reiner’s tropical cocktail den, Lani Kai, where she blends Japanese, Hawaiian, and Pacific Rim influences to build dishes to complement (and help diners guard against too many) potent tikki cocktails.