(Shin Sushi, Orlando, FL)
In life, I feel that an open-mindedness to trying all sorts of cuisine, from all cultures around the globe allows us to learn more about where other cultures have come from, while instilling an open-minded attitude to all things in life - branching into music, lifestyles, culture, and art. It’s very important for all of us to learn where we come from - everyone comes from something, from somewhere - our histories and roots are all traceable back to significant story-lines in ethnicity, culture, and family. Food plays a huge role in all of those back-stories of who we are today.
Being raised on Japanese food from my Mom, and being half-Japanese - I’ve always delved head-first into the culture: food, art, history - I felt it massively important to be aware of where half of me comes from. Thanks to my incredible job, I am able to try food from everywhere on the planet - but my favorite has always been Japan.
One day in Orlando, my Mom told me about a place all her Japanese friends love: Shin. It was a new place at the time (this was years back), and the first time I went to Shin was with Mark from Atreyu - we had it, and were blown away.
This was legit. This tasted like Japan. You could see the care the chefs and owners were putting into the food simply by the way it looked; I was hooked. On our way out, I spoke the very small amount of restaurant-Japanese that I know - said that the food was amazing and left.
From there, I kept revisiting the place - and quickly befriended the staff and chefs, and one of the main Chef/Owners: Ken Sakurada. We both quickly learned that we were both very much into metal. We talked of Maiden, Japan, food, Metal - we both had a lot of similarities going for us. Years down the line for our friendship, Ken’s wife, Urara helped design the kanji for Trivium’s “Shogun” album cover. My wife and I have our spot reserved right in front of Ken’s workstation at least once a week while I’m home, and Ken usually hits any killer shows we’re going to (or performing at) in the area.
Since I consider myself a huge fan of what Ken does, he recently agreed to let me sit down with him and interview him about his day-to-day and maybe give me a lesson in how to do what he does:
Ken: “The fish markets in Japan and America are so different; at the markets, if you received fish every morning - those fish came out… maybe a tops of a day before. I wanted to work part time at the fish market, and it was great because every day I was able to try everything at sashimi-grade quality; I was able to try so many different kinds of fish.”
"There was this guy in my local town who owned several businesses, and he met my father and said he was planning to open a sushi restaurant in the United States - in Florida - and that they were looking for one more staff person to go with them. So one day, I went in for an interview, got the job, quit school and my job at the market and would soon leave for America. Before leaving, I had worked at the fish market over a year, and instead of doing the two years of school that was standard - I only went for a year."
"23 years ago I went to Melbourne and started working in a sushi restaurant. Think about that… who in Melbourne was going to eat sushi 23 years ago? Hahah. We had the new kinds of sushi, like california rolls and stuff - and it did well. That’s how it all started.”
Me: “What was your first memory of food being something special? That moment where you realized it was beyond just eating?”
Ken: “In the US - you can’t find sushi/sashimi quality fish at the grocery store. In Japan, even at the to-go places, they have sushi and sashimi slices already prepared. At the fish market, you see the entire fish - you see that squid are still moving; and at the fish market, if you wanted to eat something like tiny sardines - you can. You can try all kinds of fish - so I was eating everything, I learned about the many different flavors of fish there.”
"Japan has four different seasons of fish - and has many different kinds you can have at each season; So every season I was able to have a different array of fish."
Me: “What were your other jobs before Shin?”
Ken: “Before Shin… I worked at a few different places: I started at the one in Melbourne, and at that point I lived in Florida for about 10 years. Next, I received an offer at Atlantis in the Bahamas…”
"I was in charge of all Sushi operations in Atlantis, and it was a busy job - I received a lot of pressure for my boss and co-workers."
"I was in Orlando right after Melbourne - a place called Hana-mizuki on I-drive. This is probably the most authentic Japanese restaurant in Orlando. I was the main sushi chef for a few years there; at the time, I was a green card holder, so I could only work in the Bahamas briefly; that’s why I eventually came back to the USA after 2 years or so."
"In Hunstville, Alabama, Toyota opened up a new plant and wanted to open a restaurant there for sushi specifically; I was employed there and lived there for a few years. Living there - they called me "the Japanese redneck" Hahahah (Ken is really into outdoors-y things, and fishes a lot).”
"Alabama was great; just their winter time was far too icy. Japanese people like to keep their cars really clean… and Alabama had that "red soil." So it was killing me - sticking on my shoes, getting in my car."
"Southern hospitality was a really great thing though."
Me: “What’s your comfort food? Your favorite thing to eat?”
Ken: “Oh, sushi is still my favorite.
Me: “Really? That’s pretty awesome.”
Ken: “It’s not oily… it’s really fresh - I never get tired of it. Teppan-yaki chefs never want to have Teppan-yaki on a day off…
Chinese chefs don’t want to have Chinese on their days off… but I will have sushi even on my days off.”
"The hardest thing though… people ask me, "Ken, where do you go to get sushi?" And the truth is - it’s hard because there aren’t places I trust to eat at for sushi. I have my favorite place back home in my old hometown… and when the economy was good, he had many chefs… nowadays it’s him, his wife and his son in more of a house-hold business."
Me: “Traditional or modern sushi?”
Ken: “I don’t do the modern day stuff… I stick to the traditionals. Nigiri.”
Me: “What is the traditional way to eat sushi? I’m even a little unsure of the right way.”
Ken: “I do soy sauce and wasabi. You know… the proper way to eat soy sauce and wasabi: you put a little bit of wasabi on your chop sticks, then on top of the fish. The reason we don’t mix the wasabi into the soy sauce is that the wasabi spices vaporize when it’s mixed into the soy sauce - and then the spiciness goes away.”
"With the nigiri, I put the fish-side into the soy sauce bowl."
Me: “In the States, I always see people dunking and soaking their sushi in a bath of soy sauce… it kills the flavor.”
Ken: “In Japan, with sushi - we use 3 fingers, stand it up sideways, and the soy sauce goes on the fish side - one bite.”
"The proper way is eating with fingers; nowadays in Japan, people use chopsticks - but the traditional way still with rolls and nigiri alike, is to eat it with the fingers."
"For the rolls, everything is seaweed on the outside in Japan, there aren’t any "inside-out" rolls like we have here."
Me: “What is a normal day for you like at Shin?”
Ken: “In the morning, I turn on the showcase, and then start setting up the fish. We have other guys doing the rice in the back kitchen, and since I’m working the front - I need to check the on the fish from the night. With some of the fish we carry, we have an ice-water-bath with a 3 percent-salt-content. If you taste it - it’s almost like salt water; it helps with the flavor of the fish that needs it.”
"Of course, we filet the fish; the tuna is in big loins - so we cut it, we wrap it, keep it in ice, in a cooler box, in the walk in’s. There isn’t too much else to do in comparison to the sushi bars in Japan."
Me: “What is the most essential thing to you in the biz?”
Ken: “Like I said, unlike in Japan - in the States, we don’t have too much of a choice where we get the fish from. The biggest thing is your relationship with the vendors. Even when I left Florida for a little bit - I still kept my relationships with my fish vendors in the USA.”
"You know, even though there’s a place that sells 1000’s of pounds of even just tuna - some places get the best cuts, some get the worst… it’s all in your relationships."
"Our customers always keep coming back for our high quality of tuna and sea urchin roe."
Me: “What go you into metal?”
Ken: “When I was in elementary school, Japanese pop was very very popular - it’s what all my friends were listening to. So in the morning, I’d wake up early and try to listen to the radio to hear what’s popular in the foreign-music scene.”
"Queen was popular, so was Abba."
"Then - when I got into high school, it was basically two elementary schools combined from this local section and that local section; so it combined into one big junior high. There were several people that I met who were really into foreign music - and at that point, I started getting into hard rock - bands like Journey."
"The first concert I ever saw in my life was Rainbow - and it was like a week before I graduated junior high - so i was like 15 or so."
Me: “What are your 5 favorite metal albums of all time?”
Ken: “Definitely the album that got me into the metal-life was “Piece Of Mind” by Iron Maiden. I also really liked “Pyromania” by Def Leppard. “Hysteria” was really popular at that time… but for me, I was really into the Def Leppard before that. I really like “Pyromania.”
"The others would have to be: "Thunder In The East" by Loudness; "Ride The Lightning" by Metallica; and "Defenders Of The Faith" by Judas Priest."
Me: “Killer! So what are we going to make today for my first experience attempting to make sushi… ever?”
Ken: “Let’s try the Philadelphia roll.”