San Francisco is a proud home to many world-renowned chefs, and now we can add Global Sushi Challenge 3rd place winner to that long list. Michelin-starred Chef Takatoshi Toshi of Sushi Ran in Sausalito recently brought home this accolade from Tokyo, after competing with top sushi chefs from around the globe.
Hosted by the Norwegian Seafood Council, the Global Sushi Challenge was the first of its kind, and aimed to showcase the immense talent of sushi chefs, and the breadth of the ingredients they use. Chef Toshi first qualified for the competition back in May after winning the chance to represent the entire United States, which is a pretty big win for our neck of the woods (take that, New York).
Once he returned from being a BAMF in Tokyo, Chef Toshi spoke with us about the competition and his approach when it comes to his craft.
[jump] You recently participated at the Global Sushi Challenge Grand Final in Tokyo where you had the opportunity to work with Norwegian Salmon. Can you tell us a little about that?
At Sushi Ran we are always looking for high quality sustainably raised fish. It was a great pleasure to have Norwegian Salmon for the sushi competition, because it is such a premium product — visually beautiful, great flavor and texture. Also, it is sustainably raised, which is very important to me.
What speaks to you most about making sushi?
More than anything, I love creating an experience for people to enjoy. I love seeing the expressions and hearing the comments as my customers react to the sushi I am preparing right in front of them. Most of all, I like to educate people — to help them appreciate the subtle and beautiful qualities of each bite, because every time they discover something new. And I know that their heightened awareness and deeper appreciation of these subtleties will enhance their enjoyment of sushi for the rest of their lives.
How has working in the Bay Area influenced your work?
This community is very food savvy. We have a lot of fantastic chefs and great restaurants here, so people in the Bay Area are very sophisticated food-wise. This level of customers’ expectation is great incentive for a chef. It pushes me to keep a step ahead.
What is the story you are trying to tell through sushi?
My style is to enhance the pure essence of the fish. Many chefs add too many ingredients and, in my opinion, overwhelm the taste buds so that the flavor of the fish is lost. Rather than to have a standard treatment of each type of fish, I like to consider the unique essence of each individual fish and think of how to enrich and just brighten its pure flavor. To me, that’s the most elegant level of sushi cuisine.
Sushi Ran has been immensely successful. What keeps you grounded and focused?
My team keeps me focused. It is so important to have a great team of inspired chefs here, to give them challenges and to continually elevate the level of what we produce, to keep fresh. If my team is happy and enthusiastic, our customers feel it. It carries through the whole restaurant. It makes our customers’ experience more exciting.
Why do you think so many cultures are drawn to sushi?
I think it’s the pureness of the food. Sushi is pure, simple food. It is easy to take something that is this wonderful on its own, and layer on the special flavors in any culture’s cuisine.
What other cuisines are you interested in working with besides sushi?
None! Really, I have a passion for sushi and I can’t imagine working with anything else.
Where are your favorite places to eat in San Francisco and the Bay Area?
There are so many great restaurants, it’s hard to choose a favorite. But if I really have to, I would pick Masa in Novato. It is a very small restaurant where I once worked. I love the feeling casual hominess there. The owners are so gracious and welcoming. It feels like all their customers are family. Simple, unpretentious food, gracious service. I can relax there.
Sushi Ran 107 Caledonia, Sausalito, 415-332-3620.