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 NOBUO FUKUDA, James Beard Best Chef: Southwest:
January 2015 Issue / Vol. 3, No. 1                                    There are such things as fish being too fresh.

















 







     
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Chaz Frankenfield


     
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Synopsis: Nobuo Fukuda, James Beard Best Chef: Southwest, Nobuo at Teeter House, Phoenix, Arizona

Born at a time when many of the world’s cultures experienced a shakedown of long-entrenched familial traditions, Fukuda’s not timid about rearranging cultural mores. What started as a break from tradition-steeped kindred in Tokyo evolved into a kudo-cluttered career celebrating a style of crafting sashimi he calls “kind of a little different” than his homeland’s culinary traditions. “Usually traditional Japanese sashimi is fresh quality fish sliced with wasabi and soy,” Fukuda said. “Very important is the quality of the fish. Here in Arizona, it’s inland. There is no ocean. The fish is there, but it needs something more for the flavor combination.” So he adds other things, like vegetables, olive oil, citrus and nuts. And then there is wine, which is not an easy match. “The typical sashimi uses soy,” Fukuda said, “which is not necessarily wine-friendly. Sometimes there’s a fishy flavor left in the mouth when you have a white wine.” His version of sashimi provides “more comfortable flavors” that linger longer on the palate and, much like crudo, are more wine-friendly. Fukuda’s all over the globe with his flavors, because, he said, “That is the only way you can do sashimi with wine.” Basically, Fukuda blends flavors, cultures, styles, and textures to create his version of sashimi. This culinary collision course has earned him top awards: Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2003, James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest award in 2007, perennial local best-of’s, and adoration of the area’s top chefs. He told them he thought Benihana was growing, but they needed a Japanese chef. They agreed. Fukuda, however, was not only “totally naïve” about cooking, he didn’t know much English, either. Fukuda took the Benihana concept a step further and developed the Japanese tapas bar concept at the French/Asian Hapa under Chef James McDevitt. Fukuda gives credit for his culinary style to McDevitt, who was a step ahead of Fukuda in earning F&W and Beard awards and culinary boldness. When Fukuda opened Sea Saw in 2002, serving the East-meets-West cuisine he learned at Hapa, the awards quickly followed. Fukuda recalled an experience he had when he took Chef Kevin Binkley to Japan for a week. “We went to the fish markets in Tokyo,” Fukuda said. “We saw a bunch of options, fresh fish, live fish. We ended up going to my friend’s sushi place near the fish market. Since Kevin is a French chef, they made a true sushi the same way Kevin would cook. They said, This is the one you saw this morning. It’s a fresh, live fish. It’s good. Now try this one. It was made with the same fish, but it was three days old. Kevin was blown away.