Four years ago — fresh out of college — I left the United States and landed on a small island south of Osaka, Japan, where I spent the better part of a year teaching English to children who will grow up to be fishermen, hanging out at way too many Japanese rock shows and eating fabulously good sushi. It was the best time of my life, but it left me with some lingering questions. Questions like what element in human nature drives us to leave behind everything we've ever known, to trade in the comfortable for whatever else is out there, to adventure in foreign lands? Sometimes, you just have to take that journey.
If there is an answer to be had, it may lie within the heart and mind of Phoenix's own Chef Nobuo Fukuda. He took the opposite journey, falling in love with Phoenix four years before I was even born. He found here a place with wide-open spaces full of potential and the chance to build his life the way he wanted it. He left Japan and set up shop here. How can you help respecting the hell out of a person like that?
First, there was Sea Saw restaurant, where Fukuda revolutionized the way Phoenicians thought about and ate high-end sashimi. These days, he's still pushing the envelope of Japanese cuisine at his new restaurant, Nobuo at Teeter House, in downtown's Heritage Square. In a tiny and cramped kitchen, he summons gigantic flavors in his fried soft-shell crab sandwich, his aiolis infused with Japanese chili sauces, and his signature take on sashimi. He regularly exposes Phoenix to something priceless: a taste of another culture. Something I believe we could all use a lot more of. — Jonathan McNamara
New Times web editor Jonathan McNamara would gladly start his life over in Tokyo should the opportunity present itself. He interviewed Fukuda on August 11 at the chef's new restaurant, Nobuo at Teeter House.
When I was a kid, I went to see the World Fair in Osaka. It blew my mind to see so many different kinds of people. They had Asian. They had European invites. In Japan, there is only one kind of people. They had a rock from the moon. They had lines for two hours to see this rock from the moon. I think I already knew I wanted to move out from that small country.
When I'm driving, I listen to the radio. Talk radio. Sometimes music. On the way to work I'm thinking about what else I have to do. When I'm coming back from work, it's usually how dinner was. There's a lot of work, work, work in my mind right now. Maybe some day, I won't have to think like that.
My favorite thing to eat in Phoenix is Vietnamese rice noodle soup — pho. From Da Vang. Between rice noodle soup, pho with beef, and duck soup with egg noodle or seafood with egg noodle.
To me, Japanese cuisine is different in the United States because Japanese food in Japan . . . there are so many different kinds everywhere from high-end to street food to home-cooked to country-style. However, in the U.S., there is usually only one kind — like sushi, tempura, teriyaki, something like this. Very limited. I think in the near future, there will be more variety of Japanese cooking. In New York, different styles of ramen are popular now.
I don't like eating anything I have high expectations for and it doesn't live up. It's that I have such a small stomach. It could be anything, but it should be good enough to use up my time and stomach.
My challenge is it's very hard to get ingredients; especially seafood. Fortunately with vegetables, a lot of local farms are starting to get in more and more and work with us.
If I weren't cooking I'd probably go back to the mountain. I was on a ski patrol for 10 or 12 years.
Without my hands I'd be devastated.
My hero is Bruce Lee? At the age I was watching his movies, I was like, "He is a god."
Before bed I always drink.