"Katsuya looks like a Bento box" – Chef Katsuya Uechi on his Dubai restaurant
Fusing tradition and innovation
With various outposts in the Americas and now a focused expansion in the Middle East, the Katsuya brand is in the middle of a global culinary revolution. Aiming to showcase the very best of Japanese cuisine fused with a plethora of gastronomic influences, from South America to Europe, Head Chef and Founder of the eponymous brand, Katsuya Uechi, is continuing his mission to share the best food from his homeland. Here, he speaks exclusively with Buro 24/7 Middle East about his experiences, his philosophies, his collaboration with renowned designer Philippe Starck, and his taste for sushi as breakfast.
This is the second Katsuya project in Dubai. Was it a conscious decision to close the first outpost so that you can concentrate fully on this project?
The location in The Dubai Mall was incredible. We then focused on the brand's future and really looked to have three or four units in the greater Dubai area; we are expanding to Riverland and to Abu Dhabi and so decided that there could be a better location for us that encompasses the Katsuya brand. So we found this incredible location within this resort.
This restaurant, as with all other Katsuya restaurants, have been designed by celebrated designer Philippe Starck. Can you elaborate on the creative process between the two of you?
Philippe Starck looked at the traditional Japanese cuisine that I created and then brought in traditional design elements. You'll see that the rooms in here have no round edges and everything is meant to be a 90-degree corner, using wood, stone and slate, which all ties in to traditional Japanese design.
If you look at the main dining room from a bird's eye view, pull off the top and look down, it should look like a bento box
You opened your first restaurant in the '90s. Do you feel like you've helped to make Japanese cuisine more popular within American culture?
Yes. I opened a school with Kanai, a food distributor who came to the US right after World War II. Kanai was responsible for expanding Japanese cuisine all over the world. He died recently and I made a book – Washoku of California – dedicated to him. I think he did exceptionally well to expand Japanese cuisine and I'm a part of that.
You have ceviche and foie gras in your menu, which are more of fusion kinds of food. What's your opinion on mixing cuisines as opposed to staying traditional and authentic?
I think food should stay traditional but when you expand to different countries, tradition is not always going to fit because of different cultures, different tastes and different products. So we adjust to the customer of each country. That's how I think.
Talking about authentic Japanese cuisine, what are some of the rules that should never ever be broken?
Dashi, a fish stock made using seaweed and dried bonito. It's like basic soup which is the most important for taste. You can use that for anything in Japanese cuisine.
Have you designed any dishes that are exclusive to the Dubai restaurant?
Looking through this menu, if you were to recommend three must-try dishes what would they be...
Seared albacore served with ponzu, crispy rice with spicy tuna and salmon wrapped with red onions and caviar.
Japanese cuisine is known to be beautifully presented. Based on presentation alone, do you think that it takes extra skill to be a Japanese chef?
Chefs don't need extra skills but they do need to have good taste in presentation as well as creativity. Without creativity, you can't achive much even if you have 20 years of experience.
Katsuya by Starck is located at Jumeirah Al Naseem Hotel. For reservations, call +971 4 419 0676. Now, discover Carribean dining in Dubai with Miss Lily's.