Yoshinori Ishii went to high school outside of Tokyo, but loved working inside kitchens, and so entered Tsuji culinary school immediately after in 1989, where he first learned of Japanese kaiseki, as well as Chinese, French, and Italian food. Half a lifetime of cooking experience, both in Japan and the United States, goes into his refined, modern Japanese dishes.
He later was the chef at Kitcho, one of the most well-known Japanese restaurants in the world. There he trained in everything from sashimi and pickling to calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, and tea ceremonies. Ishii left Japan in 1999 to become the chef-in-residence for the Japanese Embassy for United Nation in Geneva, Switzerland, and in 2002, relocated to the Japanese Embassy for United Nation in New York. In 2005, he worked at an organic farm in Kyoto and studied English as a Second Language at Rutgers in New Jersey.
That culmination of knowledge helped him immensely when he joined the staff of Morimoto in early 2006, taking over the Omakase Bar. His childhood memories of catching fish, and with a philosophy firmly rooted in the Japanese idea that cooking should use fresh ingredients, Ishii used local fish and organic vegetables from nearby farms to craft a stellar menu, earning him the 2008 New York Rising Star award. At the time, Ishii’s future goal was to create a restaurant featuring his particular style of Japanese cooking by incorporating the various methods and ideas he’s learned through his 9 years of cooking in Japan, and 10 years of cooking in foreign countries.
He did just that. In 2010 he took over as executive chef at Umu, where his Kyoto-style dishes have already garnered rave reviews.