Hide Tozawa is a chef on a mission to show Minnesota a different type of Japanese restaurant. His team at Kyatchi wants to take some of the cream cheese out of your roll and let you chew on something you might actually find in Tokyo. Hot Dish caught up with Tozawa on a recent Monday after he had finished prepping for dinner service.
Hot Dish: When you started out as a sushi chef were you concerned about sustainable ingredients?
Hide Tozawa: No. For most of my 18-year career that wasn't a priority. My career started in Minnesota, though my first experience was hanging around my aunt and uncle's sushi restaurant in Tokyo. I jumped in there but I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I don't count that as part of my career. I would get up early and go to the market for them, but not much else.
How did you get to Minnesota?
I came to the University of Minnesota to study, my parents sent me far away because I was a trouble-maker. I quit school two quarters short of graduation, but I wanted to stay in Minnesota for a little while longer. I would lose my status in this country if I stopped being a student. At that time Origami was looking for a chef who had sushi experience. That got me a work visa and a green card to remain in the country. In my career I have worked for Origami, Nami, Fuji-Ya, as a private chef for the Twins player Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and now in a leadership role for Kyatchi.
How has your style in the kitchen changed now that you are also running your restaurant?
It's a big change and it's a lot of pressure. When I left my position with Nishioka I took a year and worked for Fuji-Ya. I didn't know what was next for me, but I had bills to pay. I would go to work and I would be relaxed. But now, it's completely different. It's added pressure and I have too many things to do.
Do you feel like being so busy takes you away from being able to do the work?
Being honest with you, yes. Not all the time, but sometimes. Most of the time I think 'I don't have a life right now.' But we are trying to do Japanese culture the right way here. Looking at other Japanese restaurants, I don't care what they do; it is their business. But to me as a Japanese chef from Japan, it seems most aren't doing it right.
What doesn't seem right?
Everything is wrong. Not everybody in town but most. And again, they can do whatever they want, but when I look at what they are doing, they shouldn't name themselves a Japanese restaurant or a sushi restaurant. Many people think how Minnesota serves up Japanese food is how we eat in Japan, but it's not.
Does Kyatchi have more in common with how people are eating in Tokyo?
I wouldn't say it's completely the same. There are so many different restaurants in Tokyo and Japan as a whole. But, if you look at my menu, especially sushi, there are no Americanized rolls. I made those things enough in my career in the United States. I want diners at Kyatchi to see what a single ingredient can create if it is done right. It's a different goal.
When you are considering candidates for a sushi chef position, what are you looking for in that person?
I want to make sure that he or she understands what I'm trying to do and doesn't go in the wrong direction. Whoever I hire has sushi experience around town, but they have not been taught correctly for what I am looking for. They might think what they've done is the same as what we do in Japan, but realistically, when they look at how I work, they realize they are starting at square one. The preparation of the fish, the cutting of the scales. It is all different.
Do you struggle to use sustainable fish given that you're landlocked in the middle of the continent?
Nope. Welcome to 21st century transportation. It's great. You can get whatever you want overnight.
But is that sustainable? Isn't that a goal to not use so much petroleum to get the fish here?
But that's to get fish we need from the West Coast. In the 60s that wasn't possible, but now we can get any type. Sustainable of course limits me in what kind of fish I can use, and that's another challenge separate from transportation. But I always make sure we use environmentally friendly fish. That means that some things one frequently sees in Japan you won't see here. I have to look at the fish species and the issues there. The major fish to avoid for sustainable practices is the Bluefin tuna. The fish is still caught and sold in the market, which may mean that the individuals don't know, or don't care. But we look out for that and don't serve any Bluefin tuna in Kyatchi.
If you were going to introduce a sushi beginner to your restaurant where would you begin?
A cucumber roll. It's what I eat. It's simple and it focuses on one ingredient. Or perhaps a tuna roll. We currently don't have a red meat tuna but we use an albacore tuna. Tuna tastes in Japan are seasonal. In Japan, Bluefin tuna is seen as a winter fish, and in summer they switch to a big eye tuna. In the summertime, the meat will get softer so what is served depends on the season. Each month or each season the available fish will change and the menu will reflect that. Here, everywhere you go: same suspects in the sushi case. In Japan what we eat is more determined by the season and the migration of the fish to the Sea of Japan. Do you believe that the practices Kyatchi is using now will be considered sustainable in 25 years?
I believe so. I hope so.
What do you hope diners gain from their experience at Kyatchi?
I want people to understand quality, not only of fish. At this restaurant I don't buy from Sysco or US Food cause you don't know where the hell it is from. It's pricey, but I buy from different suppliers. I buy chicken from Larry Schultz, the pork is from Iowa and the beef is from Peterson Farm. Some people get it, some people don't. 'Why is this expensive?' 'Why are portions so small?' I get it, I know that value is important. But I feel like for most people the important thing is value, not the quality, and that's sad. I don't want people to be offended, but I do want to do something different. There's a hundred sushi restaurants in Minnesota, and if you look carefully, everyone is doing the same thing. I wanted to have a place like this in Minnesota, doing something different.