People Food

Imagine Being 20-Years-Old and Leaving the Country You Were Born in, Japan, to Pursue a Love for Basketball and Sushi.

Written by Ikkei Sakamoto (translations), co-written by Greg Taniguchi.

I (Greg) worked a short stint as a sushi chef, so I wanted to talk to Seigo Tamura about his experiences coming from Japan to the U.S. to pursue a career as a sushi chef.

I gave Seigo a nickname of sē-no which roughly means “ready set go,” and if Nihonjin (Japanese) people think it is stupid, well too bad cuz Murica.

A little backstory to sushi chef Seigo Tamura.

In the words of Seigo: “I was born in Sakai city of Osaka prefecture, known for producing the finest kitchen knives in Japan.

My first interaction with sushi goes back a long way, since my grandfather was an owner of a sushi restaurant. He taught me all about sushi. Especially work ethic, and how to make people happy and how delicious sushi could be.

When I was 20 years old, I moved to Los Angeles, and I was blessed to meet many great people which is how I was able to get a job in one of the most prestigious sushi restaurant in the U.S., known for having a wide variety of fish (listed in the Michelin guide).

I became addicted to making people happy through the sushi experience working there, so here I am now.”

Sē no (ready set go) Seigo.

Seigo has now been in the U.S. for 8 years, and he is currently 28.

1. I know you (Seigo) from being a regular at Shunka in Costa Mesa/Newport Beach, but I didn’t know anything about you beyond seeing you at Shunka. I also did remember that you had worked the front of the house for a short bit, then all of a sudden, you appeared in the back of the house (BOH). Could you let me know how that all happened?

When I first started working at Shunka, they were short on chefs, both back of house and in the sushi bar. I worked as a server, kitchen chef, and assistant sushi chef on different days. After a couple of months, one of the sushi chefs left, and that’s when I took over and became a full-time sushi chef. 

Photo Description: Seigo's e-flyer to book him online, it depicts him, with ohashi, his name in kana, along with his hours.
“715” is an abbreviation for Seigo’s name in numbers. 7(Se from Seven),1( I from Ichi(meaning one in Japanese), 5(five is go in Japanese).

2. I know you had said you wanted to come to the U.S. because you loved basketball and that you had played quite a bit back in Japan. Now that you are here, I’m sure you played on the courts here, if you have, how has playing here been different from Japan?

The biggest difference was the size of the players. The original reason why I wanted to play in the U.S. was so that I can compete with players that were bigger and stronger, to make me better as a player. 

First of all, that is BADASS on why you wanted to come here, to push yourself harder, but I assume 5’11” is tall in Japan? I’m not not sure because in Korea, my female friend is the same height, yet she was being towered over by everybody, and she looked short. I was like a shrub amongst trees, so are you considered tall in Japan?

I never thought I was big in Japan. Growing up playing Basketball, my teammates and opponents were usually bigger than me.

3. I asked that question because many times, many Americans and Japanese are unfortunately not aware of the cultural differences. The same goes for the work ethic and working style of working in Japan compared to working in the United States. I know you had not worked in Japan as a sushi chef in Japan, but you were constantly around your grandfather who was a sushi chef. So I have to ask, how do you think that experience growing up in that environment has prepared you to becoming a sushi chef now

America is totally different from Japan in so many ways, and that was the reason why I wanted to come to the U.S.  I spent a lot of time in my Grandfather’s Restaurant when I was small, and that has definitely influenced my decision to pursue my career as a sushi chef. I love “Osaka Style Sushi”, in which the texture of the fish is valued, and I remember complaining about the fish when I was small when it didn’t meet my standards (lol).

I do not understand what you mean by texture of the fish? Here in the States, all you hear is “it did not melt in my mouth,” so what do you mean you did not like the texture?

In Osaka, we usually use fresh fish for sushi, unlike Tokyo, where they “age” the fish until the flavor starts to come out. The fish are fresh, so they have a more “firmer” texture, which is what I look for in my Sushi.

 A good example is yellowtail.  I always prefer fresh yellowtail, since it has the “firmer” texture, with the flesh bouncing back on your teeth when you take the first bite. Unfortunately, most Sushi bars in the U.S. serve frozen yellowtail, which makes the texture more moist and soft.

Photo Description: Seigo dressed as a sushi chef in his chef white jacket, brushing on nikiri (soy based sauce).

4. Working as a sushi chef now, what do you enjoy the most about it?

Being able to deliver delicious food to my customers using the knife I inherited from my Grandfather.

That sounds so cliche, I mean, me personally I also wanted to deliver the best food, but I also loved seeing hot girls who came in, along with talking to cool people that I met, and I really loved working with a lot of my coworkers. To me, that was really enjoyable although maybe it is different for you?

Of course I love seeing cute girls walk in the door! I mean that’s pretty much the fringe benefit of being in this profession to be honest, lol.  “Work” ends once I`m done preparing the fish. Once the store is open, that’s when I’m able be a part of peoples dining experience! 

That’s why work has always been fun for me, and I think that’s why I was able to get customers to come back.

5. I know you are still learning, so what are some of the things you are constantly trying to improve on doing?

To create new dishes that will be loved by American people, still following the Japanese traditional way.

Ugh yea, so give me an example of that? What is a dish that you created or like to serve because I think a lot of chefs try to create something that Americans will love, and I usually do not like them although I think there are a lot of traditional Japanese dishes that more Americans should try. Don’t you think there are dishes that you grew up eating, that they should try?

I get really good reviews from my customers for my fish tempura, and my sea urchin dishes. TBH, it’s pretty much the BEST SH※※ YOU WILL EVER TASTE IN YOUR LIFE! I`d say Americans should definitely give Japanese style Chinese food a try. It may sound weird that I’m recommending “Chinese food” when I am Japanese, but “Japanese Chinese food” is a cuisine of its own. It’s not as greasy as American Chinese, but still has that rich taste and flavor. Also, forget about the fortune cookies, It doesn’t come with that (It’s just BS fortunes anyways). Also, don’t forget my hometown Osaka is famous for kushikatsu (deep fried skewers). This is the freaking soul food of Osaka. 

6. In the U.S., learning sushi is trivialized (it’s easy, nothing to it), so do you think learning sushi is the same experience as it would have been if you learned in Japan?

I think the difference will come more from which Restaurant you worked at, despite it being in Japan or the U.S.  Also, the speed you improve is not correlated to how many years you`ve been a chef. The more passion you have for Sushi, the faster you will improve. 

7. I’m sure you have been to other sushi bars in the U.S. that were not necessarily Japanese, but what did you think of American sushi when you first tried it such as all the rolls (Philly roll to the Jessica Albacore roll?).

Honestly, I thought it was delicious. However, I did feel that there were so many additional flavors, that you don’t really taste the fish. Sushi and rolls are completely different, so I consider them as two different things.

8. I have written about some of the things most Yelpers get wrong about sushi such as thinking fresh for everything means it “melts in your mouth,” but what do you think is the biggest difference between Japanese and American sushi bars?

The biggest difference about sushi bars in the U.S and Japan is the amount of knowledge the customers have about sushi. I think the reason why so many people have incorrect knowledge about sushi in the U.S. is because they’ve encountered chefs that also don’t have the correct knowledge about sushi. Many of the non-Japanese owned sushi restaurants tend to have chefs with not the same type and extent of skill/knowledge as a Japanese chef. 

9. The final question which is somewhat of a two-parter (I’m still counting it as one question tho), who is your favorite basketball player and team, and what are your top 3 types of sushi?

I love Michael Jordan, but I`ll have to say Tracy Mcgrady is my favorite player. For sushi, akami (lean bluefin), shime-saba (pickled mackerel) and buri (mature yellowtail) with good texture are my favorite.

Thank you Seigo for taking the time to do this interview.

Follow Seigo at:

Instagram:
@sushichef715
@715sushi


1.旬香で常連だった時に知り合いましたが、旬香ではウェイターをした後にシェフとして働き出したと記憶しています。その経緯を教えて下さい。

その時はシェフの数が少なかったので、寿司シェフヘルパーとして働きはじめました。その頃はサーバー、キッチン、寿司バー全てのポジションにシフトが入ってました。その後1人の寿司シェフが辞めて本格的にシェフとしてのシフトにかわりました

2.元々はバスケットをプレイしにアメリカに来たそうですが、アメリカのバスケットは日本とはどう違いますか?
1番はサイズです。


日本では経験できないサイズの中でプレーして自分のスキルを磨きたかったから。       

2A. バスケットをもっと上手くなりたいが為、もっとサイズが大きいプレイヤーがいるアメリカに来たのはとてもかっこいいですね。

韓国にいる177cmの女友達は、韓国では自分はそれほど大きくないと話していたのですが、あなたは日本では身長が高い方でしたか?

おいどんは、日本では大きいと感じたことはないです。ずっとバスケットボールしてたから、チームメイトや友達は大体みんな僕より大きかったから。         

3.質問2を聞いた理由は、多くの人は日本とアメリカの文化の違いを知らないからです。日本とアメリカでは仕事に対する取り組み方/考え方も違うと思います。日本では寿司職人としての経験はないそうですが、祖父が寿司職人だったと聞いています。寿司職人となった今、祖父を見て育った影響はあったと思いますか?

 もちろん日本とは何もかも違うと思います。だからアメリカに来てそう言った違いに身をもって経験したかったです。祖父の影響はあると思います。小さい時はほとんど毎日祖父のお店で育ちました。大阪寿司特有の新鮮で歯応えのある寿司が好みで、たまに他の寿司屋などに連れて行ってもらった時にも、子供ながらネタの違いによってよく文句を言っていました。笑       

3A. ”歯応えのある魚”というのはどの様なものでしょうか?アメリカではよく”口の中でとろけなかった”などの表現は聞きますが、歯応えのよくなかった魚とはどういうものでしょうか?

大阪スタイルは東京とは違って、新鮮な魚を新鮮な状態で寿司にするので、コリコリした食感のある魚がよくあります。東京の寿司は魚自体を熟成【ねかせる】したり手を加えて鮨にします。例えば、アメリカの普通の寿司屋食べるハマチはだいたい冷凍で、それをみんなは食べ慣れているかと思います。僕が言う歯応えのないというのは、とれたてのハマチ寿司を食べ慣れてるから、ハマチには歯ごたえがないと嫌です。

 4.寿司職人として、どこに1番やりがいを感じますか?

曽祖父、祖父の包丁を使い、人が寿司を食べて楽しみ、美味しいって言ってもらえることです。    

4A. 私自身もお客さんに喜んでもらえる料理を提供することは好きでしたが、可愛い子が来店したり、お客さんとの関わり合いもすごく好きでした。僕にとっては、これらが非常に楽しかった思い出なのですが、あなたはどうでしょうか?

もちろん!そこはシェフとしての醍醐味でしょ!仕込みが仕事、店開いたらパーティーって感じです。そんな事をしてたというのもあって、新人でしたがお客さんもよく着いてくれたし、そのおかげで今があると思います         

5.まだ修行中の身だと思いますが、特に何を向上させようと頑張っていますか?

アメリカ人、他の国の方々にウケるネタや一皿を日本の伝統を崩さず何か新しい物を作りたいと思ってます。

 5A. これの例を教えてください。自分で考えた新しいメニューやお客さんに出した料理の中で、特に気に入っている料理は何ですか?これまで私が食べた料理の中でも、シェフがアメリカ人に向けに作った料理は、あまりおいしく無い事が多々ありました。その反面、伝統的な日本の料理をもっとそのままアメリカの人々にもっと出したらいいのにと思います。あなたがこれまでずっと日本で食べてきた料理で、もっとアメリカの人に食べてもらいたい物はなんですか?

魚の天ぷらやウニを使った一品などはお客さんによく”美味しい!”と言って頂いてます。伝統的な日本の料理って言ったら難かしいけど、日本で食べるような餃子とか日本スタイルの中華料理はもっとあってもいいかなぁって思います。日本料理と聞かれて中華を進めるのも変な話ですけど、”日本中華“は”中華”とは違う新たなジャンルだと思います。あとおいどんは大阪出身やから串カツやで

6.アメリカでは寿司の握り方を習うのは簡単だと思われています。日本とアメリカで寿司の修行をするのはまったく違う経験だと思いますか?

それはお店によって違います。安い店から高級店までそれぞれ違います。それは日本もアメリカも同じです。どれだけの年数を修行したよりも、どれだけ鮨に打ち込めたかだと思います。  

7.アメリカで、日本人が経営していない、アメリカナイズされた寿司屋さんにもいった事があるかと思いますが、初めてロールなどのアメリカの寿司を食べた時はどう思いましたか?

美味しかったです。ただ寿司のとコンセプトが違うだけで。シンプルと言うよりも派手で、 いろんな味が混ざって魚の味はあまり関係ないのかなぁって思いました。けどロールはロールで、鮨は鮨で食べれば全然問題ないと思います。 

8.僕のブログでも以前書いた事がありますが、アメリカでは、”新鮮であればある程口の中でとろける”等の間違えた考えが浸透しています。日本とアメリカの寿司屋の1番の違いはなんだと思いますか?

一番の違いは、ほとんどの人がそう言った鮨の間違った知識を持っていて、それは今世界中にいろんな寿司屋があり、経営者はほとんど日本人じゃなかったりするのが原因だと思います。そこでシェフが間違った事を客に教えたりしてしまったら、食べる人たちは間違った情報を信じ込んでしまうと思います

9.最後の質問です。1番好きなバスケットボール選手とチーム、好きな寿司ネタTop3を教えてください。

マイケルジョーダンもちろん好きですが、1番好きな選手はトレイシーマグレディー。寿司は、マグロ赤身、しめサバ、ブリ【こりこりしたやつのみ】

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