We were thrilled to sit down with Chef Yuhi Fujinaga on his visit to Tokyo. We got the chance to talk food and knives over breakfast sushi at Tsujiki market. Yuhi Fujinaga is Executive Chef at New York’s Sea Grill, which is well known for its progressive take on American cuisine and for its landmark location in New York’s Rockefeller Center. For the restaurant, Chef Yuhi sources the very best seafood and applies influences from his Japanese heritage.
How and why did you get into cooking initially?
I was influenced by my Mother and Grandmother, who were both great cooks. Very modern for their time with “home cooking”
You’ve cooked a variety of cuisines, from Spanish at Bar Basque to modern American at Sea Grill. Is there a common approach or culinary style that runs through your cooking?
Yes, seasonality is the biggest factor in my cooking. Ingredients during their peak season require less touches.
As a Japanese American chef, do you look to Japan for inspiration in your technique or use of ingredients?
Yes, My heart and my soul is still very Japanese. I guess the flowers will always blossom the way the roots are planted.
Have any of those ingredients found their way into dishes at Sea Grill?
Yes, many of the dishes I have created at the Sea Grill have those touches. But very little, so that they are vital to what makes them stand out. Dashi, Soy, and the most important, Umami.
Are there any chefs who inspire you or who have influenced you over the years?
There are many mentors I have who I must mention for me to be who I am now. Not in any particular order – Hiroyuki Sakai, Christian Delouvier, Alain Ducasse and Ed Brown. Each and every one of them has inspired me about food in many different ways. Through their inspiration, I am able to create unique food.
Have diners tastes in New York changed over the years? Is there a difference in what you can serve now at Sea Grill versus what would have been popular fifteen years ago?
Yes and yes, but some things never change. It’s like my analogy with your roots, you’ll always go back to where you came from. Each and every one of us has changed, but we’ll always love the food that we feel most comfortable with.
Do you have a favorite restaurant or dish in New York and/or Tokyo?
This is the most difficult question to answer. In New York, I am a very simple kind of guy when it comes down to where I go to eat. Ramen and pizza are my favorites. Ramen has got to be Ippudo, and Pizza is Nicoletta. Yes, it’s not traditional New York Style, but very good I must say. As for Tokyo there are too many, but if I have to choose one, it would be Sakana Shinmachi. Located in Setagaya, Tokyo, it’s a very small restaurant where they offer seasonal seafood.
Is there any advice you would offer to young cooks just getting into the industry?
Have an open heart, and an empty stomach, “not” in the word of my uncle, but “ALLEZ CUISINE!!” Remember your roots, honor your mentor, and most of all love the food.