25 Uchi alumni which can be operating their very own eating places and kitchens
“With out them, I’d be nothing.”
Chef Tyson Cole, whose famed sushi restaurant Uchi was inducted into this 12 months’s Austin360 Restaurant Corridor of Fame, uttered these phrases about his previous and current workers not too long ago when explaining his and Uchi’s enduring success.
In discussing his restaurant’s 20-year historical past, he returned repeatedly to his gratitude for his workers’s work ethic, creativeness and collaborative spirit.
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“That’s your legacy. I wasn’t nearly as good as them in loads of methods,” Cole stated. “The perfect half is vicariously watching the expertise develop their careers. It makes you are feeling so proud.”
Cole’s humility in an business the place so typically the highlight falls on a singular expertise is refreshing, but in addition warranted. It’s plain that Uchi and its restaurant group, Hai Hospitality, which can quickly have greater than 20 places of 4 ideas throughout the nation, wouldn’t have achieved its degree of success with out attracting and cultivating top-level expertise.
However, former Uchi director of culinary operations Philip Speer, who’s chef-owner of contemporary Mexican restaurant Comedor, makes clear that Uchi’s basis was created by one man’s creativeness.
“Tyson deserves virtually all of the credit score for that. He had a imaginative and prescient that individuals in Austin didn’t fairly perceive,” Speer stated. “He actually wished to convey this superb mixture of meals to this land-locked market that had been eating on barbecue and tacos. It was not solely one thing he cherished and wished to create, however he wished everybody else to, as properly. He’s performed a lot for the Austin and Texas restaurant worlds. And he ought to be celebrated for that.”
Cole’s imaginative and prescient was rooted within the want to mix flavors and textures to create distinctive meals and heighten the service expertise to the diploma that each diner within the constructing felt as in the event that they have been getting the identical degree of consideration as these seated on the sushi bar. That spotlight to element demanded an extremely well-trained, passionate workers that shared Cole’s buy-in.
“I couldn’t do what I wished with out a workers like that. And that fairly shortly grew to become Uchi,” Cole stated. “The workers right here is so passionate on a regular basis, the tradition is so constant.”
Uchi has spawned extra expertise than arguably any restaurant in Austin’s historical past. Dozens of alumni, after sharpening their abilities at Uchi, have gone on to personal their very own eating places and work in administration positions.
Uchi’s consistency and dedication to excellence has cultivated leaders just like the restaurant’s director of culinary operations, Kaz Edwards, who has been with the restaurant since beginning as a line prepare dinner in 2004. It has additionally left an impression on dozens of entrance and back-of-house workers who honed their commerce at one of many Uchi eating places earlier than placing out on their very own.
If Uchi’s expertise actually is Cole’s best legacy, it’s one about which the Florida native, who had by no means harbored ideas of being a chef till he wandered up an unmarked flight of stairs to the restaurant Kyoto in downtown Austin in 1993, could be very proud.
What follows is an inventory of notable alumni with notes on a few of their careers and feedback about how their time at Uchi ready them for his or her futures within the hospitality world.
Takehiro (Také) Asazu (chef-owner, Uroko, Kome and Sa-Ten)
Like Cole, chef Také pursued the visible arts earlier than turning his creativity to sushi. A local of Osaka, Asazu initially opened the trailer Sushi-a-Go-Go in 2009 with spouse, Kayo Asazu. They parlayed that success into the highly regarded Komé and partnered with Uchi alumni Moto Utsunomiya on Japanese cafe Sa-Ten and Masa Saio on the Springdale Normal sushi restaurant Uroko. Coming full circle, the couple opened Sushi-a-Go-Go on the Austin airport in 2022.
Damien Brockway (chef-owner, Distant Family)
The Connecticut native left a profession in San Francisco to take a job at Uchiko in 2013. When he left Uchiko, he initially stayed in positive eating with stints on the since-shuttered Qui (owned by Uchi alumnus Paul Qui) and Counter 357. However a want to discover his private roots and the foodways of the African diaspora led Brockway to open the barbecue trailer Distant Family in 2021. The trendy African American smokehouse has earned reward from the New York Occasions and a number of James Beard basis semifinalist nominations.
“Uchiko was the primary place I labored in Austin, I met some amazingly gifted folks which can be nonetheless in my life in the present day all these years later,” Brockway advised the American-Statesman. “It was positively a spot that had gravity for drawing in expertise.”
Thai Changthong (chef-partner, Thai Kun and chef-owner P Thai’s Kaho Man Gai)
The Bangkok native opened up the game-changing avenue meals trailer East Facet King with fellow Uchi alumni after which spun that off for his ESK-branded Thai Kun trailer. The recognition of that pulls-no-punches truck led to the opening of Thai Kun on the Area Northside, the town’s greatest Thai restaurant. His newest enterprise, the Hong Kong Grocery store meals stand P Thai’s Khao Man Gai, finds the chef making the Hainanese rooster and rice dish of his youth in Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Justin Huffman (govt chef, Justine’s)
After a number of years working in California, together with as co-founder of boutique seafood supply firm Mayday LA, this Uchi veteran Huffman returned to Austin in 2021 to helm the kitchen on the French restaurant the place he beforehand labored his method from sous chef to chef de delicacies. Along with guiding a kitchen cooking French classics and seasonal seafood specials, Huffman additionally runs burger pop-up Le Beef.
“Uchi was dwelling. It was the primary time I felt excited to come back to work, and I wanted to be taught every little thing that I may,” Huffman advised the American-Statesman. “I’ll all the time be without end grateful for the chef it formed me into and the requirements I nonetheless carry in the present day about meals, service and tradition.”
Fermín Núñez (govt chef, Suerte and Este)
Earlier than he grew to become certainly one of Austin’s most recognizable cooks, he was a category of 2021 inductee as a Meals & Wine Greatest New Chef and a part of two kitchens (Suerte and Este) which have landed on nationwide journal lists of greatest eating places within the nation, Nuñez discovered the ropes working as a line prepare dinner at Uchiko a decade in the past.
“Aside from studying about flavors and methods, two of the largest issues I discovered from my time at Uchiko have been the eye to detailed group, not solely within the kitchen itself but in addition on the way you carry that onto your self as a chef, by the way you look, speak and maintain your private self to the identical normal,” Nuñez advised the American-Statesman. “The second was to really perceive the facility of nice hospitality, and see the profit it will possibly do for a enterprise and the trouble it takes to coach and have staff members imagine and comply with your objectives.”
Yoshi Okai (govt chef, Otoko)
Kyoto native Yoshi Okai was one of many first cooks at Uchi and labored there when Cole was named a Meals & Wine Greatest New Chef in 2005. The charismatic and inventive Okai would go on to earn the identical award 12 years later because the chef at Otoko, the fashionable kaiseki restaurant perched at the back of the South Congress Lodge.
June Rodil (associate, Goodnight Hospitality in Houston)
Few folks have had as huge a hand within the trendy world of Austin hospitality as June Rodil. Although she lives in Houston now, the place she is working associate of one of many metropolis’s toniest hospitality groups, she helped elevated Austin’s service requirements together with her work on the Driskill Grill, Congress, Jeffrey’s and, after all, Uchi. Rodil is certainly one of fewer than 200 grasp sommeliers in the USA and certainly one of solely about two dozen ladies masters.
Masazumi “Masa” Saio (chef-owner, Uroko)
Cole stated that when he opened Uchi, certainly one of his primary stressors was looking for 5 Asian cooks who may work the sushi bar. He finally discovered and educated his crew, and whereas they have been from throughout Asia, Saio was Japanese. Saio was working as a hair stylist in Japan and Cole was launched to him by way of mutual buddies. Cole introduced him to the States, educated him and Saio ended up being probably the most recognizable faces at Uchi, working on the South Lamar Boulevard restaurant for 19 years earlier than partnering with fellow Uchi alumnus Take Asazu to open the handroll-by-day, omakase-by-night Uroko in Springdale Normal.
Philip Speer (chef-owner, Comedor)
Tobacco cream, fried milk, candied quinoa. These are among the indelible marks left on the Uchi menu throughout Speer’s 11 years spent working as govt pastry chef and director of culinary operations. Speer says that creativity as an act of studying and a collaborative course of that included loads of suggestions and constructive criticism, ready him for his future as a chef-operator.
Speer’s French(ish) bistro Bonhomie in North Austin had a regrettably brief life, however he returned as chef-owner of the creative and beautiful trendy Mexican restaurant Comedor. Few cooks are as intently recognized with the early success of Uchi and Uchiko as Speer.
“The expertise I gained as a younger chef at Uchi translated in a method that allowed me confidence to not solely create however to obtain and provides that very same collaborative suggestions in my very own kitchens,” Speer advised the American-Statesman. “Tyson taught us, it’s all the time an modifying course of and that’s the most vital a part of a menu creation, the power to have sufficient humility in your artwork to vary course from the unique idea.”
Amanda Turner (chef de delicacies, Olamaie)
Turner could be the chef de delicacies of upscale Southern restaurant (Olamaie), however her profession in cooking targeted on world flavors early in her profession, beginning with an internship at Uchi and a job on the opening staff at Uchiko. She later labored as chef de delicacies at Italian restaurant Juniper, beneath fellow Uchi alumnus Nic Yanes, and as chef de delicacies at Tiki Tatsu-Ya.
Extra notable Uchi alumni
- Blake Aguillard (chef-owner, Saint-Germain in New Orleans)
- Ben Cachila (associate, Previous Thousand)
- Val Cantu (chef-owner of Californios in San Francisco)
- Willet Feng (proprietor, Burgerchan in Houston)
- John Gocong (chef-owner, Osome)
- Masatomo “Masa” Hamaya (govt chef, O-Ku in Atlanta)
- Zach Hunter (culinary director of Pedal Haus Brewery in Tempe)
- Jeffrey Miller (chef-partner, Rosella Sushi in New York Metropolis)
- Patrick Pham (Chef-Proprietor, Kokoro, Handies Douzo and Aiko in Houston)
- Susana Querejazu (chef-partner, Lutie’s)
- Paul Qui (chef-partner FAM Hospitality Group, with eating places in Austin, Houston, Denver and Miami)
- Brett Shaw (govt chef, Liholiho Yacht Membership in San Francisco)
- Moto Utsunomiya (associate, East Facet King and Sa-Ten)
- Niki Vongthong (govt chef of Hidden Omakase in Houston)
- Nic Yanes (associate, Juniper and Uncle Nicky’s)
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