Oona Tempest, New York’s Hottest Sushi Chef
Already considered one of the best sushi chefs in New York, at 26 years old Oona Tempest has succeeded in impressing swathes of culinary critics, surprised by her culinary prowess at such a young age. The indefatigable chef has climbed the ladder, with passion and perseverance, and has opened two restaurants where experimentation takes center stage, all the while acknowledging the traditions and evolutions of sushi. Moreover, all this is accomplished using common fish species from the Edo period in Japan.
From an artistic youth in a Massachusetts seaside town, to her arrival in New York, working in Michelin-starred sushi restaurants, and now working as a young sushi chef, Oona Tempest’s unconventional career path piqued our interest. She divulges all the details and remembers fondly her apprenticeship with uncompromising leader Toshio Oguma, as well as sharing her passion for art.
How did you discover sushi?
I discovered sushi when I began waitressing at Tanoshi Sushi on the Upper East Side in 2013. Here, I ultimately ended up training with Toshio Oguma who taught me everything I know today.
How did you get to where you are today?
I began as a waitress at Tanoshi Sushi and then worked my way to dishwater and then prep chef before becoming an apprentice to my master Toshio Oguma, after that I moved behind the sushi counter. I worked at Sushi Ginza Onodera before opening the first Sushi by Bae pop up at Jue Lan Club; now we have a permanent Union Square location.
The sushi world is usually dominated by men (as women were considered as unable to make proper sushi, especially during menstruation), how do you feel as a woman in the industry?
It’s isolating and there is not the same camaraderie and support that the guys have. They get together and talk about their restaurants and what they are doing. I’m aware of the lack of community.
What is your favorite piece on the menu?
Right now I would say sardines because they are fatty and have a very complex umami flavor profile that comes out in the summer. It’s only available for a few months in the summer while it is warm.
How did your artistic studies influence your culinary career?
I think my artistic background makes me pay attention to every detail. I went from having nine-hour studio classes for drawing, rendering and photorealism to doing sushi prep which is also an all day endeavor so I think that gave me stamina and it doesn’t feel like a big change in lifestyle. I craft every piece of sushi like it’s a piece of art. I feel like I’m sculpting a piece of work when I make a piece of nigiri.
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