Call Uchi a Japanese restaurant, or even a sushi restaurant if you wish. But while its dishes feature familiar touchpoints such as hamachi, maguro, scallops, and wagyu, there's much more to it than just a splash of soy sauce and a dab of commercial...
Welcome back to Dirty Work, our new series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce. This time around, we welcome Tyson Cole and the crew from Uchi, who demonstrate time and time again that Japanese food is about so much more than California rolls and miso soup.
When you visualize the origins of sushi, the first natural landscape you likely imagine is the open sea, maybe on the coast of Japan, rife with schools of fish whose delicate flesh would bring a tear to your eye with their pristine flavor.
Now close your mental map and reopen it on the roof of a building in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by concrete, skyscrapers, and whatever's floating around in the East River. This is where a beautiful raw fish dish can be made. Counterintuitive? Maybe. But the MUNCHIES garden not only survives, but thrives, in this urban jungle. And the sushi we're talking about isn't from the local Seamless joint that brings you mediocre spicy tuna rolls at 11 PM. This is the squad from Uchi.
Call Uchi a Japanese restaurant, or even a sushi restaurant if you wish. But while its dishes feature familiar touchpoints such as hamachi, maguro, scallops, and wagyu, there's much more to it than just a splash of soy sauce and a dab of commercial wasabi.
Founded in Austin in 2003 by chef Tyson Cole, a ten-year veteran of traditional Japanese sushi-making, Uchi combines the new and old in ways that seem both innovative and incredibly harmonious, with an emphasis on fresh produce, herbs, and unexpected additions like candied quinoa and garlic brittle.
Now with four locations—including outposts in Houston and Dallas, as well as a smaller "Uchiko" in Austin—Uchi has become a major force in Texas's food scene. We were excited to have Uchi chefs from all three of these cities join us for an installment of Dirty Work, and very interested to see what creation would come from their visit.
Tyson and the Uchi team perused the garden thoughtfully, plucking radishes, flowers (including some clover that we've discovered mysteriously tastes like watermelon), green garlic, curly mint, and chives along the way.
But it was soon revealed that they had arrived far from empty-handed. As we threw on some hip-hop at Tyson's request, he produced a gorgeous looking branzino as well as a couple of perfectly ripe white peaches.
And sometimes, even a master sushi chef can't resist playing with his food...
After executing some amazing knife skills on the branzino, Tyson got to work on the peaches, using an "Uchi cut" to make pieces that aren't uniform, but incorporate all the best parts of the fruit's flesh.
"We thought we'd bring a fish and do what we do at our restaurants, which is find really fresh fish, fresh produce, and really fresh fruit and create a delicious dish," Tyson said. "We use a lot of local purveyors [at Uchi], but ultimately the goal is to get the best possible product." In a word, then, the ultimate goal of Uchi is one word: freshness.
"Uchi's been open since 2003 and I'm a classically trained sushi chef. I did it for 11 years, almost 12, before we opened, so I'm pretty much a sushi master of sorts. But I like having guest interaction every day," Tyson continued. However, he worked quietly and methodically as the rest of his team efficiently produced a peach vinegar and a flowering-chive- and green-garlic-infused oil.
"I was 22 [when I first started studying sushi]," Tyson said. Before that, his priorities included "hanging out and smoking dope." But he fell in love with "the people, the food, and the respect they had." Fast forward to 2016, and his degree of knowledge and technique in the discipline is seemingly endless.
Suddenly, all of the components came together quickly, and before us was a gorgeous dish of brazino crudo, accented with the peach vinegar, a few drops of the fragrant garlic-chive oil, pretty hunks of white peach flesh, and a sprinkle of flowers and curly mint.
The best part of this dish: You don't have to be a sushi master to prepare it. Its elegance is in its simplicity. The ingredients list is relatively short, but the reasons why we love it are so very many.
You'd never guess it was the product of some Texans, a Brooklyn rooftop, and a soundtrack of Drake. But life is full of surprises, and so is Japanese food.