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Chef 101 with Kaz Okochi of Masa 14, Kaz Sushi Bistro

Previous culinary experience — My very first experience was at a Pizza Hut in Oklahoma. That was my first cooking experience at a professional level. Then I went back to Japan and went to culinary school, mainly studying the French. I graduated and started working at a sushi restaurant. I worked at a sushi bar [Sushi Ko] for 10 years, and opened my restaurant [Kaz Sushi Bistro] in 1999. Then, my second project, Masa 14, [opened] Monday.

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When I’m not eating my own food
— Most of the time, I’m not eating my own food. Except for right now, we’re doing a lot of tastings. It’s a tough question. Generally, I like simple food. For instance, in the summertime I eat a lot of tomatoes and corn, which is the simplest way. Of course, if you ask me about the restaurants, I don’t go out that often, but it varies. It’s always different.

Born and raised — Nagoya, Japan

Food I cannot stand — I just don’t like shaved coconut. It’s very difficult— I don’t know, just the texture. I don’t mind coconut milk, just the shaved coconut. I don’t know where that comes from.

Greatest cooking influence —  That’s a tough question. I mean, definitely the chef [Mopoharu Komatsu] I used to work for, the first job I got in Japan at the Japanese sushi restaurant.

Views on cooking TV shows —  I don’t watch those. In general, the Food Channel has been helping a lot to educate American people. This country is a pretty young country compared to Europe and Asia; therefore, the history of cuisine is very short. It really was nothing here. Then the Food Channel came over and is doing a lot of educational things for Americans. Competitions and those things are more like entertaining purposes, but I think what is more interesting to me is they are introducing a lot of ingredients to restaurants, so I think it’s great. You know, if I do something unusual, they might have had a thing on TV before, and [customers] might have seen it on TV. If they’ve never seen it, maybe they won’t try it.

Strangest cuisine I’ve tried — Dried sea cucumber. I don’t like it — I’d never try it twice.

Must-have cooking utensil — Knife. There’s nothing you can’t do with a knife.

Thoughts on Washington’s food scene —It’s great. It’s growing. It’s very exciting, especially right now with so many restaurants opening. Washington isn’t a huge city compared to Chicago or New York but … if somebody wants to come here just to eat a lot, they can stay for weeks just checking out different restaurants every day. I’m very proud of it, and I think it’s very exciting for the people living in this city and the people who visit it.

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Worst kitchen disaster
— I don’t have anything really major. One thing: A few years ago I did some boat-side catering out of town. I had to make the roll, nori. I tried to carefully shape everything, but the seaweed got damaged slightly. Every time I tried to make the roll, it would break. These things are just not huge, but they happen. I don’t have really huge disasters.

Biggest pet peeve in the kitchen — Since I’m working at a sushi bar, something that’s very hard is that people, especially women, come with a very strong perfume. You can imagine when you work just away from the people and dealing with the food, and it’s just that smell all over. It’s kind of very, very disruptive.

Three people I’d never want to see in the kitchen — That’s a tough question. Probably it’s better not to say. I do respect every chef, even though each chef has a different way to handle situations. I don’t mind as long as the people don’t get in my way.

Strangest things cooked — Fish sperm. It’s a delicacy. You cannot use all [types of] fish but some fish, like cod or blowfish. It’s called milt … It’s very good but it may seem strange to you.

Age — 48

Marital status — Wife, Dukki