Tyson Cole introduced Austin, Texas, to sashimi with goat cheese and tangerine oil.
As the chef and owner of the acclaimed Uchi and Uchiko restaurants in Austin, Texas, Tyson Cole is an unlikely sushi expert. First, his restaurants are located in the heart of central Texas, which doesn’t immediately register as the land of octopus and yellowtail. Second, he’s a boyish-looking 40-year-old guy, not a face that patrons expect to be speaking Japanese and wielding razor-sharp knives behind a sushi counter. But Cole is all for breaking traditions, and he does so convincingly. With a modern menu that melds punchy global flavors with traditional Japanese preparations (such as maguro sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, Fuji apple and pumpkinseed oil), Uchi has amassed a local cult following and national recognition: Cole was awarded a coveted Food & Wine “Best New Chef” award in 2005, and earlier this year he received a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest. Cole became obsessed with sushi in his early 20s and dedicated himself to the intricacies of knife dexterity and Japanese cuisine. Today, he’s a busy guy: Uchi: The Cookbook was published earlier this year, and his second Uchi restaurant will open in Houston in December—but the chef slowed down long enough to share his favorite moments of sushi nirvana.
The Locale: Sushi Nozawa, 11288 Ventura Boulevard, Los Angeles
The Sushi Master: Kazunori Nozawa
Ultimate Sushi Binge: “I went to Los Angeles for the first time in 1999 on a research trip, in an attempt to come up with ideas for my dream of opening my own sushi restaurant,” Cole says. “A private investor offered to pay for the whole trip and encouraged me to try as many great sushi places as possible. It was an incredible time, but the real standout was dinner at Sushi Nozawa.”
His Way or the Highway: Nestled in a strip mall, this place is far from fancy, and with no menu it’s also a bit intimidating—but bravery (and good manners) are rewarded. “The head sushi chef/owner is Nozawa-san himself, and he more or less makes what he wants to make for everyone,” Cole says of the chef, who’s also known as the “sushi nazi.” “He has been known to throw people out for requests and bad manners. Two of us sat at the sushi bar and he made us some great pieces of sushi.”
The Highlight: “What I really wanted was what I spotted in the case in front of me when I first sat down—my favorite, madai, or Japanese sea bream. Madai is the king of white fish, it swims in deep, cold water so it has a high fat content and more flavor,” Cole explains. “After an hour or so, I finally worked up my courage and leaned in on the sushi case and asked Nozawa for a couple of pieces of the bream—in Japanese. “Hai!” he said (Japanese for “Yes!” or “Got it!”) Of all the things I ate and tasted on that weeklong sushi trip, that bite was the best.”
Tyson Cole on Soto (New York)
Tyson Cole on Tojo's (Vancouver)