By Jacklyn Tran
June 5, 2017
Chef Taichi Kitamura was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan before coming to the Seattle area during his senior year in high school for an exchange program at Lynnwood High. An avid fly fisherman and hiker, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest kept this all-around outdoorsman in Seattle, where he studied at Seattle University before giving in to his true passion for cooking.
In 2010, Chef Kitamura opened Sushi Kappo Tamura (2968 Eastlake Ave East), where an open kitchen and lively environment is also home to exquisitely prepared sushi and much more.
We sat down with Chef Taichi Kitamura recently to talk a little about home, cooking philosophy and beating Bobby Flay.
Ethnic Seattle: You were born and raised in Kyoto, what about Seattle convinced you that your future was here?
Taichi Kitamura: It was a combination of urban life and outdoor life and a pretty good size asian community which I felt comfortable in. If I wanted to go skiing or fishing it was a half an hour drive so I really felt like it was a good place for my future.
ES: It must have been a tough decision!
TK: The decision wasn’t tough at all! It was just, I was young, 15, when I decided to do it. That was pretty bold at the time but I didn’t know it. I have a child now and I can’t imagine making that decision at that age. I had the support from my parents through it all, so I’m glad I did it.
ES: When did you realize that food would be your life and career? Was there a defining moment?
TK: For me I always knew, if I had just admit it to myself all along. I was in denial until I finished my college degree. I grew up in the industry. My parents had cafes in Kyoto so I grew up seeing how hard it was but how much fun and rewarding it is too. I felt responsible to see what else was out there. By going to college I was hoping to find something else that I was passionate about but I really didn’t.
ES: You must have helped your parents so much back home then. How did that carry on later?
TK: Oh yes, I was in 6th or 7th grade doing dishes. We had old-style coffee shops and used to deliver within 5 blocks. That was my summer job; I would deliver coffee on my bike for no tips or anything back then. In Seattle, I worked in restaurants the entire time while going to school. After I graduated I was already at Chiso in Belltown and continued on after from there.
ES: How would you describe your style as a chef or your cooking philosophy?
TK: Simple and very ingredients-driven with a strong emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients; which is the core discipline and philosophy in Japanese cuisine. I am very loyal to that.
ES: What do you enjoy most as a chef or a restaurateur?
TK: Meeting so many different people from different parts of the world, and introducing Japanese cuisine using Seattle ingredients.
ES: You’ve received many best restaurant awards and accolades, what has been your greatest accomplishment thus far in your culinary career?
TK: Well, I did beat Bobby Flay. That was really fun. What makes me most proud though, is the things I do every day. When I serve a customer from out of state and introduce them to the ingredients of Seattle in the most simple way like local fish; that makes me happy. I’m also very happy when I make Seattleites proud by representing Seattle seafood. When they think “wow” and it’s a beautiful food that you can only get in Seattle and nowhere else in the world. That’s what makes me proud. You can’t get salmon or oysters like ours in Japan.
ES: How did Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay come about and what was the most challenging aspect of that experience?
TK: They contacted me out of the blue! I didn’t submit an application or anything. The interview was most challenging. The cooking part was easy. For me, I just go in and make the best dish with the ingredients given. That was easy; I do that every day. I had to make it entertaining and dramatic though, that was tough but I just made things delicious and that was it.
ES: Cuisine is such a layered aspect of culture and history, what is your fondest food memory back in Kyoto?
TK: I do remember eating sukiyaki. I don’t know if you can call it a restaurant, but it’s by a waterfall by a shinto shrine in the forest. They only serve the locals because they don’t advertise. There were never other customers there, just us, or others who lived there. In the summertime I remember going and eating by this beautiful waterfall, and it was the most magical dining experience I can remember. It almost seems unreal now. So much so that I asked my dad about it to see if it was even real and he said yes. That’s a memorable experience to me.
ES: What is your personal favorite dish? Is it something you like to cook or something you like cooked for you?
TK: Just one dish? If i could only choose one, I would say just a sockeye salmon simply salted (let it sit for about five hours) and grilled with fresh rice.
ES: The urban garden that your team has created on the rooftop of Sushi Kappo Tamura is a true testament to your commitment to sustainability. What’s most exciting about having that?
TK: Right now, it’s pretty limited because of the time of year, but my favorite will be the crispy, juicy, sweet butter lettuce which tastes completely different from what you get at the store, as well as the chiso. The chiso is so aromatic. It makes great mojitos and is delicious with sashimi. I sometimes eat that with just rice.
ES: What is a must-have dish at Sushi Kappo Tamura?
TK: It’s the fish catch of the day. My selection changes every day. What I recommend today will be different tomorrow so always ask what is freshest, what’s in season or what’s available locally. That’s how I want customers to enjoy my food.