Chef News

Nobuo Fukuda on What He Misses About Japan and the Difference Between a Japanese and an American Chef

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As a kid growing up in Tokyo in the '60s and '70s, Nobuo Fukuda didn't learn cooking at his mother's knee, and he certainly didn't dream of sushi. His mother, a teacher and Noh actor, supported the family while his retired older father played Mr. Mom, doing such a pathetic job in the kitchen that Nobuo and his sister began making their own obento (boxed lunch) to save face at school. "We got in the habit of being in the kitchen," Fukuda says, although the experience by no means inspired him to become a chef.

He did, however, aspire to move to the States, an idea that took hold of him at age 10, when he saw Neil Armstrong's moon rock at the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka. "I thought America was great," Fukuda says, and a decade later, he moved to Phoenix. Why here? Because he knew getting a green card would be much easier if he chose a city with a small Japanese population.

He immediately landed a gig as a teppanyaki chef at the original Benihana on Scottsdale Road in Old Town, admitting there really wasn't much serious cooking involved. In 1984, he moved to Ayako of Tokyo, where he stayed another four years, before migrating in 1988 to Fred Yamada's hot new sushi spot called Yamakasa.

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Nikki Buchanan