Word of Mouth | Tales and tidbits from the pros.

In April the 34-year-old chef and co-owner of Uchi, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in Austin, was named one of the ten best new chefs of the year by Food & Wine.

Is it really that difficult to slice raw fish?
Yes. It requires extraordinary finesse and attention to texture.

In America, would-be chefs study in academies. Can a sushi chef learn in a classroom? No way. You have to apprentice to a master. In Japan a person might wash dishes and prepare rice for years before being allowed to touch a fish. It takes at least twenty years to learn the knife skills and everything else that goes along with making sushi. You must be worthy.

How long did it take you to get good at it?
I made sushi for three years in Austin at Kyoto under chef-owner Ted Kasuga, then for six at Musashino, studying under chef-owner Smokey Fuse. Uchi opened in 2003. Somewhere in there I became adequate. I would never say “good.”

What did you study in college?
I wanted to be a physicist, then a painter. Twelve years ago, I got a job at Kyoto washing dishes, and I fell in love with Japanese food and culture.

What’s the most unusual dish you have created?
Probably the yellow watermelon and bluefin tuna. Our homemade Vietnamese fish sauce brings out the sweetness of the fruit, and the textures of the fish and melon are amazing together.

What’s the best part of your job?
On busy nights, when the orders are pouring in and you’re talking with the customers in English and the chefs in Japanese—all the while feeling the warmth of the rice and the chill of the fish and the knives—you hit a zone. It’s like conducting an orchestra.