Chef from renowned Nobu opens restaurant in Leaside

[attach]1715[/attach]Nestled in their new sushi restaurant in a Millwood Road plaza, husband and wife team Yasu and Kimi Ouchi speak about the tradition of sushi making in their native Japan. Kimi translates for her husband, whose English isn’t as strong. When she switches back to English her accent is surprising — it’s Australian.

Born in Japan but raised in Melbourne, Kimi moved to Toronto less than a year ago with Yasu to open a high-end sushi restaurant that serves authentic food.

“I wanted to introduce the art of sushi to Canada,” says Yasu, a sushi chef of 13 years who trained in Japan before cutting his teeth at the Melbourne location of the restaurant Nobu. He’s made sushi for the likes of Nicole Kidman, Keanu Reeves and Matt Damon.

The couple’s new restaurant at 897 Millwood Rd. may not be a hang out for the stars, but it appears to be garnering a solid following in the few weeks that it’s been open.

Called Nigiri-Ya, the resto is named after the type of sushi that’s popular in Japan, which is unlike the sushi you may find in the supermarket. This type is simpler, Kimi and Yasu say, with rice at the bottom and a big piece of fish on the top as opposed to a roll.

They still serve the rolls as people love them, Kimi says, but the sushi sophisticates come in for the Nigiri-Ya type.
Sushi in Japan is a serious thing, the couple says — so much so that chefs train for a decade to master the art. It takes training to be able to tell if the fish is at its freshest and to pack the rice so it sticks together.

And the Ouchi’s stringently follow the traditional way.

“We’re throwing out a lot of fish at the moment,” says Kimi, as they don’t want to recycle fish into the next day. Once they get a handle on their market they hope to reduce the wastage.

And it is a challenge buying fresh fish in Toronto, they admit — it’ll never be as fresh as it is in Japan. But the couple says they’d rather spend more money to get a better grade of really fresh fish. The sushi may end up being more expensive, but that’s the point.

“We’re not the mass-market cheap sushi,” says Kimi. “Sushi is pretty much you get what you pay for.”

Trying to stay as true to tradition as possible has had other challenges. During busy takeout time it can take Yasu up to 40 minutes to prepare two large servings of Nigiri-Ya sushi, a challenge when people don’t call their take-out orders in ahead of time. Sometimes they’ve had to close the resto because they’ve run out of rice. It takes time for the rice to be ready as it must soak in Yasu’s homemade sushi vinegar for a good day before it’s served.

After working with the top Japanese sushi chefs, Yasu says he wanted to return to Toronto, where he spent six months during high school.

Though Kimi isn’t involved in the sushi making, her background in marketing research has come in handy. She can often be found stationed by the counter chatting with and learning about her customers.

The couple almost set up shop in the Beach but chose Leaside as they liked the area. The parking lot outside was also a big deal as much of their biz comes from takeout.

And if you want a lesson in how to eat sushi, the traditional Japanese way is with your hands — no chopsticks — and to dip the upper fish part, not the rice part, into the soy sauce.