In the spirit of a modern sushi chef

If you sit at ROKU’s sushi bar and order the omakase, you might find in front of you a plate of delicately rolled stave sashimi with vibrant yellow and purple edible flowers popping out of it. Or a crystal bowl filled with creamy pieces of blue crab topped with decadent uni, caviar, and gold flakes.

These thoughtful dishes come from the mind of 45-year-old chef Jiro Kobayashi, who has worked since 1998 for the West Hollywood restaurant’s parent company, Innovative Dining Group (IDG), which also owns other trendy places like Sushi ROKU and BOA Steakhouse. much longer than many of us have held a job at the same company.

Some of Kobayashi’s plates have modern influences on protein that go beyond fish, like juicy wagyu chunks seared with a grape reduction drizzled over them. But Kobayashi likes to finish his six courses omakase with a traditional sushi plate garnished with slices of fresh fish over rice, such as seared amberjack topped with a fried garlic chip, or a Hokkaido scallop with a drop of yuzu pepper paste.

A plate of sushi served as part of ROKU’s omakase (Photo by Jean Trinh / LAist)
Kobayashi tells LAist he takes a modernist approach because “it’s interesting to do something different” but also likes to “mix it up a bit and make traditional sushi towards the end” of his music. omakase.

His first love is traditional sushi, and it dates back to his epic trip to Japan, where he undertook a grueling but rewarding four-year apprenticeship at a sushi restaurant in the coastal hot spring town of Atami. At the time, Kobayashi was only 19 years old.

Prior to his apprenticeship, he first became interested in sushi while working at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo, then worked under the guidance of a renowned chef, someone Kobayashi asked to become. apprentice so that he could master the art of making sushi. But he was discriminated against by “really snobby chefs” – this one included – who didn’t think he could handle making sushi because he was a first generation American, growing up in the south. from Pasadena. He remembers the chef saying something like, “No way, you’re American,” and laughed in my face. “

“I won’t name any names but I remember that and that kind of injury,” Kobayashi said. “You’re not even giving me a chance.

Kobayashi wanted to prove them all wrong and left for Japan to get an apprenticeship. Her own mother, born in Japan, was not thrilled that Kobayashi was leading this new direction. “She knows the culture and how intense it is to work there and she didn’t really want me to do that hard work,” he says.

5b29acaa0161a1000dd5a9ec-original.jpg

Executive Chef Jiro Kobayashi stands behind ROKU’s sushi bar (Photo by Jean Trinh / LAist)
But he still embarked on a trip to Japan. Over the next four years, he would work six days a week and over 12 hours a day, doing “really intensive work,” Kobayashi says. He did the same chores day in and day out, like cooking rice or cooking. tamago (omelet egg).

“It was a bit monotonous, like ‘My God, why do I do this same bs every day?” remembers Kobayashi.

He remembers being impatient at that age, exploding with anger at times. He quit the restaurant twice, but came back, apologizing and asking to return to work. They took it back every time.

“These are the struggles that you sort of go through as you grow up in life, and you have to think through to make the right choices,” says Kobayashi. “When you make the right choices, you become a bigger person [and then] you succeed. So you just have to struggle. You learn your patience and you definitely build thicker skin. “

5b29cab0161a1000dd5a9f1-original.jpg

ROKU moat sashimi, with kumquat jam, lava salt and yuzu (Photo by Jean Trinh / LAist)
Kobayashi started shelling oysters and preparing smaller fish like sardines, but eventually got the chance to fillet bigger fish and perform larger tasks. “Then I fell in love with the culture above all, the beauty of Japan in general, and how detailed everything was in Japan, how great the work ethic was there, how great it was. so intense and how they’re so into perfection and wanting to be the best at what you do, “he says.” That’s what encouraged me to do what I’m doing now. “

After his stint across the Pacific, he returned to the United States, working in sushi restaurants in Southern California, before landing at Sushi ROKU as a sous chef in 1998. Kobayashi rose through the ranks. until the position of Executive Chef and recently landed the same role at IDG’s ROKU, a sushi and teppanyaki restaurant that opened on the Sunset Strip last November.

Nowadays he doesn’t care what other people think. While he still has a passion for traditional sushi, he admits he does things that other classically trained Japanese chefs don’t. It can garnish a crispy rice cube with pan-fried foie gras and a dollop of sweet kumquat jam, or add more western herbs like cilantro or basil to its offerings. But he says he always brings Japanese ingredients, like yuzu or shiso leaf, into the fold.

5b29acac0161a1000dd5a9f5-original.jpg

Wagyu with grape sauce, Peruvian pepper and micro shiso (Photo by Jean Trinh / LAist)
Kobayashi wants to start incorporating ingredients into these dishes that are not as popular in the foreground right now, like ankimo (monkfish liver). To him, ankimo could get as hot as uni.

“I am constantly excited about working with fish every day,” he says. “I get excited every day about setting up the sushi bar and filleting all the big fish that I have… That’s when ideas come up, like, ‘Oh, what am I? can do with this fish today? “So every day is something new.”

ROKU is located at 9201 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, (310) 278-2060. The six-course omakase plus dessert costs $ 80 and is available for lunch and dinner.

Dino S. Williams