Six questions with master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi

He tells GC what it took to put together his new superstar restaurant in Dubai, Katsuya by Starck

He’s hailed as the man behind the western world’s sushi craze after his first restaurant in LA’s Ventura Boulevard, known as Sushi Row, became as popular with locals as it did celebrities.

Chef Katsuya opened his first restaurant outside of the US in Kuwait’s Avenues Mall, a UAE outpost followed in Dubai Mall, but despite the queues of people that crowded the front of the Philippe Starck designed restaurant waiting for a table, it quickly closed to everyone’s surprise. Now, the supremely talented chef says that his new Dubai venue in the Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel will offer “a more well-rounded experience” more akin to the experience offered in LA with a lounge, bar and moody lightening.

Most of your Japanese ingredients in your Miami and LA restaurant come directly from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan. For the Dubai restaurant, will you still source your fish from there or use local fish instead?

Our seafood is sourced from all over the world and is flown into Dubai on a weekly basis. It is sourced from different regions based on availability and quality.

Have you made any changes or added any special dishes to the menu in Dubai that haven’t been served elsewhere in your restaurants?

Yes, we have added multiple new dishes exclusive to the Dubai location – including a range of hibachi grills, pan-seared sea bass, and a selection of new cocktails. With our insight into the Dubai market, we believe these exclusive offerings will be perfect fit.

Japanese cuisine has now become mainstream in the West thanks to franchise sushi chains. Are you concerned that these type of restaurants undermine the authenticity of Japanese food?

No, I think it’s great that interest in Japanese cuisine has spread around the world. It’s natural for restaurants to adapt to the local market, and many chains do a great job of interpreting our versatile cuisine.

At Katsuya, we try to keep traditional Japanese cooking techniques while adapting flavours to local palettes.

What’s something that you think people don’t know or understand about Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi that you think they ought to know? 

Being a sushi chef is a never ending journey. Initially, it can take up to ten years to become a trained sushi chef; but even then, the process of being qualified never really ends.

You first opened in Dubai, in Dubai Mall and then it suddenly closed. What happened? 

After amazing success in Dubai, we decided to move the restaurant in order to give guests a more well-rounded dining experience. We believe this restaurant – from location, to menu, is a wonderful addition to the Dubai food scene.

 Do you still get a chance to cook in your restaurants? Is that something that you miss as your business has expanded? How many restaurants do you have in total?

Yes, absolutely. I still cook in many of our restaurants and enjoy spending time with all of our chefs, helping them improve their skills and knowledge. We now have nine Katsuya locations globally with many more in the pipeline.