Friday, March 15, 2013 at 8:35 a.m.
South Florida is filled to the brim with sushi restaurants galore. It's no secret: Our diet-crazed, scantily clad population absolutely loves the Japanese staple. Unfortunately, for the most part, it's certainly not authentic. Have you ever heard of them eating California rolls with fake crab in Japan? Yeah, we didn't think so.
Recently, South Florida has brought in its newest real sushi chef: Taiki Kuramoto. He took over the reins at Imoto
in November. Since then, he's added some fusion and traditional items to the menu. Click on for details.
Originally from Yokohama, Japan, Kuramoto started working in sushi restaurants part-time while attending college for computer programming. After about two years of cooking, he took the test to get his cooking license, a government-run program that gives kitchen staff certification in safety, technique, nutrition, and other culinary elements -- it's not needed to work in a kitchen, but it's more prestigious for staff. Like so many other young people, Kuramoto got his degree and realized his chosen field wasn't for him.
After college, Kuramoto spent time working in a surf shop, snowboarding professionally, and eventually started a company managing other snowboarders -- three of whom made it to the Olympics. His love for snowboarding was part of the equation of his moving to the States.
In 2006, Kuramoto moved to California: His parents and sister had been living in the States for well over a decade already. He was recruited by the Hamamori Sushi Bar & Restaurant in Costa Mesa, rated as the number-one sushi bar in Orange County by Zagat. It was there that Kuramoto began working with fusion-style sushi, which focus on taking traditional Japanese elements -- perfectly cooked rice, fish, wasabi, and soy sauce -- and mixing it with creative techniques (such as searing with a kitchen torch) and toppings (like fried garlic, onion, or foie gras).
After meeting Conley in California, Kuramoto agreed to head out east. He wanted to get a feel for sushi on the East Coast. Weather differences and lack of mountains aside, he admits the move has been a bit of a challenge. "In California, more people know more about sushi than here," he said. "People here tend to like rolls. Now I've come to understand I need to do it both ways. I couldn't understand it at first: Rolls are so big, you can only try one flavor. I want people to try different things."
While he still finds some skeptics, Kuramoto has been able to get many people to try his new menu of special nigiri -- the fish-over-rice style of sushi. He's come up with some inventive combinations such as fluke with foie gras, momiji, scallion, and ponzu for $4.50 or scallop with lemon, shiso salt, and tomburi for $4. The menu also features some rarer Japanese offerings like blue fin tuna and monkfish liver. Kuramoto is hoping to continue to open Palm Beach diners up to more traditional Japanese ways of eating. "I'm thinking about live shrimp, but I'm not sure yet," he said, "I think people might get scared when they see it still moving."
Kuramoto thinks part of the fear comes from South Floridians' lack of exposure to Japanese culture and cuisine. On the one trip he made to a local sushi restaurant, he was not impressed. "It was the worst sushi I had in my life," he said. "When I eat a piece, I can tell when they made the rice. It was more than one day before that they had made it. For the tempura, they used a different flower. I think it's because there's no Japanese community here. Clay [Conley] already told me before I moved here. People sometimes will stop and stare, because we're Asian. It's funny compared to California."
Still Kuramoto is hopeful that he can open South Floridians up to different kinds of sushi. While he obviously likes everything on the menu, he highly suggests the blue fin tuna and the lobster nigiri. "I want people to try more new styles of sushi," he said. "Some people will love it. I guess I just want people to know that they don't have to order rolls."