Just back to Austin friday afternoon from one of the most incredible trips to NYC of my life, culminating with James Beard awards on Monday where i won the best chef in Southwest United States title. In a tie, which was a bit odd and hasn’t happened in over a decade….and the first person in Texas to win one since 1992 as well. I’m honored, excited and completely stunned. A bit of nervousness flying up to NY for the show; John Mariani of Esquire and Andrew Knowlton of Bon App both predicted i would win days prior…so that just added to the anticipation and anxiety to the festivities as well. I thought i might have a chance with the James Beard semi-finalist nominations of Uchiko, my chef Paul Qui and our culinary director/pastry chef Philip Speer…but somehow just locked it out of my brain that the chance wasn’t even possible. Possibly the release of my Uchi cookbook in March and my article in the WSJ last month helped as well?? I’ll never know….but man, what an honor. The whole event played out like a storybook ending. i’ve everyone to thank that helped me get to the point of winning an award of such prestige. An American dream. From dead broke college drop-out dishwasher,to working 10 years of training to become a sushi chef, to husband and father of the 3 beautiful little girls, chef/owner of 2 amazing world class Japanese restaurants here in Austin, to the recipient of a James Beard award as one of the top chefs in America….all the hours of blood,sweat and tears payed off far beyond what i could’ve ever imagined.
A shock of electric ecstasy shot down my core to my feet when they called my name at the awards in front of everyone who is anything in the food world today. I was pacing the gigantic Avery fisher hall; a kinetic bundle of nerves. I saw it on screen that i’d won and it was almost a relief. I was so incredibly nervous i drank 5 bottled waters waiting to hear the results! (they wouldn’t server any alcohol until the end of the show and the beginning of the tasting; i’ve never needed a shot of liquor so bad in my life!) My lips were numb as i gave the acceptance speech, and walked from there off stage into a flurry of flash bulbs and anxious reporters & industry peeps. A culinary oscar? Why, yes it is! Completely surreal.
So many hours of work. So many nights away from my wife and family. And, so many people whose commitment and dedication to my vision of what Uchi could become to make this all come to fruition. I’m the sum of all that we’ve created and owe it all to my staff , my partners and my family. Congratulations to all. So very excited now to bring this award to Austin and continuing our push to make this city into one of the premier dining destinations in all of the country.
Next step: Uchiko’s adolescence into maturity, and Uchi Houston open by years’s end.