To celebrate International Sushi Day this year, we sat down with Chef Kimijima-San, sushi chef of UMI, an intimate 10-seat omakase sushi restaurant in the heart of Hollywood road, brought to you by the group behind Bibo, Ecriture, Poem and Silencio.
As soon as we met this 4th generation sushi Chef we got an immediate sense of an utmost respect for his art, which made him the perfect candidate to photograph for our F&B Leaders Series this International Sushi Day. Chef Kimijima-San shared with us his what inspired him to become a sushi chef, his culinary secrets, and his vision towards this ancient art.
We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did. And we hope you enjoy your Sushi this International Sushi Day!
Hi Chef, thank you for spending time with us today. Most important question first…and I hope you can share this with us. What are the 3 pillars to making the perfect sushi?
The essence of sushi is very simple. To make good sushi you need:
- Good sushi rice
- Perfect balance between the amount of rice and fish
- Temperature. Good sushi rice needs to be served at ”body temperature” around 36 Degrees. Fish will be cooler of course.
And I would also add a 4th one: Timing. Sushi needs to be eaten right away, within 1 minute after it has been prepared.
When did you know you wanted to be a sushi chef?
I was 18 years old when I started. In my family there were sushi chefs for 3 generations, I am the 4th. So I grew up in our restaurant in Tokyo looking at what my father was doing, and always had admiration for him and this craft.
But my father never taught me anything, I just learnt by looking at him working. I would watch him and then practice either before he’d arrive at the restaurant in the morning or late at night when he left. This is training “Japanese-style”.
Where and how did you train?
I worked with my father for 15 years, then I moved to another restaurant, also in Tokyo, for another 3 years. Then I came to Hong Kong in 2000, and now it’s been 20 years since.
Did you your father ever let you serve him sushi?
I wished I could make sushi for my father but I never got the chance, sadly he passed away before I could treat him with some sushi prepared by me.
How important is the quality of ingredients in sushi and where do you source them?
I used to go to the fish market in Tokyo every morning and inspect all the different fishes of the same type to choose the best one to serve at the restaurant on that day. But in Hong Kong is different, I have to order on the phone from Japan. The fish is still very fresh as I order in the evening and it arrives the following afternoon, but it’s hard not being able to choose the actual pieces in person.
What is really important in choosing the type of fish to serve for sushi is to have knowledge of the seasonality of the fishes. Every fish has its best season, when the flavour is at its best. Some fishes even taste different depending if they are in mating season or not. And the sushi chef should know all of this.
That’s why the “omakase” meal is the best choice to enjoy top quality sushi. Omakase literally means “respectfully leaving another to decide what is best” in this case, the Chef.
We make the biggest changes to our menu every 3 months but some of the dishes may change on a daily basis. Starting this month we have our new menu, which includes the dishes that you guys photographed.
What is your favourite sushi to eat?
Tuna! Lean tuna is my favourite: the colour is beautiful, a deep red colour that looks like a rose. And the taste is even better!
What is your favourite fish to prepare?
Still tuna! I just love the colour of it so much.
Why lean tuna versus fatty tuna?
I prefer the pure taste of the lean tuna, I feel like the fatty flavour is too predominant. The most popular cut amongst Japanese people is actually medium fat tuna, but I prefer the lean one.
What kind of tuna do you source?
We use blue fin natural tuna from Hokkaido, is the best one, very expensive.
Do you eat French food or western food in general?
I do, I like to try other cuisines, although sometimes they don’t resonate with the simplicity of my personal taste, both visually and in the flavours. Once I told a French Chef that the foie gras tasted too strong for me… He wasn’t very happy (laughs).
Anything else you would like to share with us about the art of sushi?
To me what is really key in the art of sushi, which I also want to reflect in the concept of my restaurant, is SIMPLICITY. If you notice, everything in this restaurant is made with 3 colours. The piece of sushi itself has 2 to 3 colours max: white of the rice, colour of the fish, and maybe a tiny bit of colour in the garnish. Even the interiors here are very monochrome.
I think if I use more than 3 colours I’d confuse my customers on where the focus is. The focus should be one and only, on THE FISH. That’s my rule to keep the balance.
That’s very cool as it sounds like a rule we would apply in photography! Thank you Chef Kimijima and Happy International Sushi Day to you!
And a Happy International Sushi Day to all you Dishtaggers out there. With the purpose of International Sushi Day being to encourage people all around the world to eat more and love sushi, please enjoy and don’t forget to share your favourite sushi moments this International Sushi Day with us on the Dishtag app!
G/F, 159-163 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong
Lunch: Monday – Sunday 12pm – 1:30pm
Dinner: Monday – Sunday 1st Seating 6:30pm – 8pm, 2nd Seating 8:30pm – 10pm
Contacts: +852 2956 3177
Photo Credits: Dishtag