A Gothamist interview with Oona Tempest on her work as a sushi chef and her recently launched restaurant Sushi By Bae
On Monday, Gothamist published a profile of 2014 VCS alumna Oona Tempest and her recently launched Manhattan restaurant Sushi By Bae. In the piece, Oona discusses her three-year apprenticeship with Toshio Oguma at Tanoshi Sushi; her thoughts about being one of the few female sushi chefs in New York (and in the sushi industry as a whole); some of her inspirations and influences; the day-to-day aspects of running her restaurant; the relationship of her art to her culinary practice; and much more. Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:
What exemplifies the style of omakase that you’re serving? I was trained in the edomae style, but again, in New York City, edomae is another one of those terms that chefs take very, very seriously, so I don’t want to claim that I’m doing strictly edomae, because I’m not. I’m doing as close as I can with what I know. That style comes from the 1800s, Edo period, when there was no refrigeration so all the fish is cured. Whether it’s vinegar, or kombu, or salt, or sugar, or cherry blossom leaves, or miso, or…you name it. There’s all these different preparation methods that are used to preserve the fish, enhance the flavor. They’re all pure; it’s all one ingredient that’s added, it’s not a bunch of ingredients that we have today in the world when you think of adding flavors to fish or adding flavors to anything. This is just pure miso…kombu; that’s it.
That preparation takes time, it’s thoughtful. You have to really understand what you’re working with; you have to understand the seasons, you have to understand the fattiness of the fish—or lack of fat—or shellfish, etcetera. I wanted to essentially just do what I know, in this project, because that’s all you can do. I’m presenting the style of sushi that I’ve learned in my training so far between Tanoshi and Ginza Onodera and from snips here between that you gain through life experience. There are so many sushi bars in the city now, I’m just presenting one style.
You mentioned what you’ve learned “so far”; do you consider this a lifelong training and learning? Do you think that there’s ever an end point or is it a constant learning process? Exactly, it’s a constant learning process. One of the fears that anyone has going out on their own for the first time is, “Oh my gosh I don’t have someone above me that’s teaching me. How am I going to learn more? What am I going to do?”
But you find very quickly that you still are learning a massive amount just working by yourself. It’s a whole different thought process. Organizational skills…what do you do if you get a fish and it’s not good quality? Now I’m building my relationship with the person I order my fish from and now he knows exactly what to send me and what not to send me.