Hideo-San and the Story of Ushiwakamaru

After college and really putting my foot in it when it came to my passion for food, I decided to head to New York to challenge myself through culinary school and gain some work experience in the kitchens there. You know what they say, “if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”

During the whole experience, I knew my free time had to be devoted to really exploring and unfolding New York’s food scene. I don’t mean just the Meat Packing district or anything that was written about online, I wanted to explore the food scene like a local New Yorker.

I had 1 year to completely sacrifice my body to the benefits of food exploration and here I stand today, proud, educated, aware and 10kg heavier.

Your probably thinking.. there is no such thing as a ‘local’ New Yorker and thats exactly what I mean. I wanted to see all the different cultures and aspects of New York’s food world from all the elements that have come together to create NY as the melting pot of gooey goodness that it is.

I had 1 year to completely sacrifice my body to the benefits of food exploration and here I stand today, proud, educated, aware and 10kg heavier.

Although I saw some seriously amazing off the radar places, I want to talk about the one that really affected me and to this day will be the meal that I hope is waiting for me in heaven… Otherwise I’m just not going.

This place, although it has got its share of publicity and coverage, is still a secret by NY standards. If you are a lover of real sushi, (and I don’t mean california rolls and spicy mayo), an adventurer of the jewels of the ocean and a trailblazer in the art quality fish, welcome. This is your calling. If not, you need to leave now. And just in case we know each other, and I was not formally aware of your feelings towards sushi, we can no longer be friends. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Let me begin with the name. Ushiwakamaru. Ushiwakamaru is a historical Japanese figure who is considered the greatest samurai warriors in the history of Japan. His story is still told to children in Japan and he was always referred to as kind, virtuous, humble and honorable. Everything I would say about the Chef at Ushiwakamaru NYC. Hideo-San.

Ushiwakamaru is a very simple, to the point and honest restaurant. There is no obnoxious signs or banners, just what looks like a little Japanese lantern outside the door. Upon each and every visit I would sit at the sushi bar watching the four very skilled and almost theatrical ‘Itames’ also known as sushi chefs. Each one had a personality in his creations and technique and you could see that the regulars who come here would sit on the sushi bar according to the chef serving them, building a trusting relationship with the man who they would choose as their preferred artist.

Since I was there for the first time, I took whatever spot I got at the sushi bar and ended up in front of Hideo-San. The head chef and owner of Ushiwakamaru. There was something really special about this guy. Something very unusual for the typically very serious Japanese Itame, usually filled with laser focus and an expression that looks like they’re preparing for battle. No, not Hideo-San. Hideo was drunk on a tuesday night at 10.30pm. At work. At the restaurant he owns. Dancing like a bear.

Japanese people have a very big drinking culture and having a drink on the job, offered by guests, in his own place, is completely accepted and for some reason it felt so right. I watched him in awe as he served a full house, delicate pieces of rice and shiny fresh fish all flying out like a symphony of food, no notes to remind him of the guest and where they are in their meal or what they requested.

Hideo-San was smiling to his ears. Su-San was shaking his head at him as usual. Su-san is his right hand man and the Sous-Chef at Ushiwakamaru. He is the wisest of the group and the perfect opposite of Hideo-San. He had a sharp wit, unquestionable discipline and a glaring sense of disapproval of Hideo-San’s antics, and yet they both are like Yin and Yang. Completely balancing each other. The ultimate bromance.

There was this electric energy that flowed through the room, a feeling that made you completely aware of just how happy people are in Ushiwakamaru’s energy. Especially Hideo-San who at this point was speaking to me in his drunken english that seems to improve dramatically when he’s drunk, showing me how after all the drinks, he can still stand on one leg and pose like a tree.

I can’t not smile at this man. He is like peter-pan. Never allowing the world to make him grow up. All his innocence and playfulness there on display for all his guests and by god do they love him. Every chef I started to learn about through working in kitchens and just getting my footing in the culinary scene, would show up at his restaurant. Michelin star chefs, James Beard award winners, it didn’t matter. They looked to him. not vice versa. They were genuine supporters of him, his craft, the quality of his product and most of all his humble generosity and kindness.

Hideo-San would do whatever he could to help anyone. He has no motive to open some big time restaurant, have his name in lights or charge people ridiculous prices purely for additional profit. In Hideo-San’s words, ” I just want to teach the world about sushi.”

 You must understand, there is a method to his madness. Each piece is created perfectly and each flavor balanced in a way that requires you to just trust him and do as you are told. Good dog. Sit.

So my favorite dancing samurai master is preparing fish in his buzzed state like a pro. No sweat. This guy still has that typical Japanese laser focus. But with a huge smile on his face instead of an intimidating straight one.

The Omakase menu is the only way to go with Hideo-San. This is where you can choose an amount to spend or a number of pieces you would like and he creates a well thought out and musical experience of the senses. Each piece of fish will come out one by one for you to enjoy immediately and with a quick explanation from him and a guidance of whether it requires soy sauce or not. You must understand, there is a method to his madness. Each piece is created perfectly and each flavor balanced in a way that requires you to just trust him and do as you are told. Good dog. Sit.

Hideo-San taught me everything I know about the proper etiquette for sushi and he grew to be a mentor to me. There are not enough people in this world left that do something they love and truly enjoy every moment. He is a successful, highly acclaimed and recognized chef and doesn’t even know it because he is too busy enjoying the party and loving his work. Even if you mentioned it to him he would shrug his shoulder and throw back more beer.

Hideo-San’s sushi in the Omakase process is usually sashimi and nigiri style which is just simply sliced fish, and then simply sliced fish on top of a little mound of perfectly steamed rice. Hideo-San’s rice by the way is true perfection. The temperature, the moisture the saltiness vs. sweetness. It. Is. Everything.

His fish is always seasonal and he scours the globe for the best of the best. His connections run wide and far and why would I be surprised, no one can’t love this man. He is the reason I love food and the industry the way I do. He should remind everyone in the food world why we are all here. Many of the foods I may have hesitated to try in the past, he turned me into a believer and trust me I am not scared of any sea creature but he has some interesting items some days. You are an explorer here and it really is a privilege to taste the love he puts into his work. You really do experience something magical.

If you do get a chance to enjoy his magic, take your time to absorb his knowledge. Enjoy his food and savor every delicious bite. Because I will be here. Jealous and hating you for it. And for god’s sake, buy the man a beer.

 

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