StarChefs: Why did you start cooking?
Noriyuki Sugie: My first job was as a line cook in a California style restaurant. I also went out to dinner with my parents a lot. I had French food for the first time when I was 13-years-old.
SC: What advice/tip do you have for young cooks just getting started?
NS: Taste everything throughout the entire process…the stocks, the reductions.
SC: Who are your chef mentors?
NS: Chef Michele Travine was the most influential. He is an artist. He’d always sketch a dish; make an image. He’d pick out a plate; determine the taste. Charlie Trotter is a great team leader. It’s like a sports team. In France it’s very calm, quiet. In America, kitchens are bursting with energy, exciting. It was Chef Michele’s suggestion that I go to work for Trotter.
SC: What’s a favorite ingredient of yours at the moment?
NS: Agar-agar: a seaweed that we use to set things like a gelatin.
SC: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
NS: My Misono knife. I use one knife for everything.
SC: Is there any technique or method you use in an unusual way?
NS: I liquefy foie gras and set it with agar seaweed. I cut and plate it then put sugar on top, torch it just before service for a foie gras crème brulee.
SC: Is there a place you want to travel for culinary research purposes?
NS: Turkey: I heard it’s beautiful. Great architecture, food and spices. Brazil has a growing Japanese community. Its mix of culture is interesting to me.
SC: What are your favorite home-cooked comfort foods?
NS: Soup and noodles, dim sum.
SC: As a musician does music influence your cooking? Do you listen to music in the kitchen?
NS: Music is about harmony and I try for harmony in my dishes and in the kitchen with flavors. No music is allowed in our kitchens--hotel rules. But, I would listen to rock for prep and classical for service.
SC: How is it being a chef in New York as opposed to other cities you worked in?
NS: There’s more freedom. Anything you want to create, you can do it in New York. Also, the line cooks and workers are highly skilled and very creative.
SC: What do you think about the quality of Japanese food in New York?
NS: I like ramen noodles late at night. Japanese is very local, sharing dishes. I like Kenka and Yakitori Taisho.
SC: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
NS: Same job: maybe working on a cookbook. I love cooking. I also like kitchen and restaurant design; new concepts.
SC: Do you find New York and the Amanda Hessers of the world tougher than most cities?
NS: The media is very powerful in New York. This is a tough place; lots of politics. Her review was a bit shocking, but hasn’t affected business; we’re very busy every night. With restaurant reviews, everybody has their favorites. In New York there’s no scale. In France they have criteria. Here the judging is out of control. If you look at Michelin and James Beard--there’s too much power with one person. It’d be better if many people made the decisions.