Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata

Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata
March 2011

Manabu Horiuchi may not yet be a familiar name to the nation’s foodie community, but his star is set for a meteoric rise. At chef-driven restaurant Kata Robata, Horiuchi (a.k.a. Hori) commands the highest respect from Houston’s chef community for his classically prepared Japanese fare.

Horiuchi was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1974, and by the age of 10, he knew he wanted to be a chef. Horiuchi attended the Tsuji Culinary Institute of Japan where he excelled, graduating with top honors and receiving a special certification to handle and prepare blowfish. Upon graduation, Horiuchi became executive assistant chef at Tokyo’s Sushi-Ko Honten under Chef Mamoru Sugiyama. In 1999, Hori was bestowed the honor of moving to Houston to serve as the consulate general of Japan’s official executive chef. Horiuchi prepared meals for the family and dignitaries, such as James A. Baker III, Sen. John Glenn, and former NBA player Clyde Drexler. Clearly they spread the word about the arrival of a talented new chef in Houston—it wasn’t long before he was tapped as executive chef for Kubo’s Sushi Bar and Grill.

After piling up a long list of accomplishments with Kubo’s, Horiuchi was again in search of a new challenge, and Azuma Group’s Yun Cheng, a long-time fan, suggested that his new Japanese tapas concept might be a perfect fit. At Kata Robata, Horiuchi says—with a laugh and a look that is anything but a joke—his goal is “to make Kata Robata the best Japanese restaurant in America.”

Interview with Chef Manabu Horiuchi

Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi: Mother’s school lunch box she used to prepare for me when I was little.

CH: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
MH: Yes for both.

CH: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MH: I would advise them to seek any opportunity and experience in life that can motivate and inspire their food. What you learn in the kitchen is not the only resource you can bring to the table.

CH: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MH: Try to keep the ingredients fresh and avoid misinterpreting their quality.

CH: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
MH: Overcome the pressure and stress.

CH: If you had one thing that you could do again (or do over), what would it be?
MH: Study hard to learn English.

CH: Which person in history would you like to cook for you? And who do you like to cook for?
MH: I would like my parents—and whole family in Japan—to cook for me, and sometimes I like to cook for my baby cats.

CH: What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
MH: The knowledge and technique that I learned in Japan has enriched and strengthened me as a chef in America. And I am pretty much grateful that my food has flourished and been recognized.

CH: What does success mean for you?
MH: My idea of success is the moment when customers like my food and want to eat again.

CH: What ingredient do you feel is under-appreciated?
MH: Junk food—greasy food.

CH: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
MH: I’ll be somewhere in Houston, working on new innovations and ideas to expand my passion for comfort food.

CH: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
MH: A cardiologist, firefighter, or baseball player.

CH: What would your last meal be?
MH: Hopefully my wife’s daikon inakani (braised daikon).

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