A taste of Home-a-Kase by Soosh’s personalized, premium fine dining
Referring to chef Nobu Matsuhisa as a ‘legend’ or ‘celebrity chef’ has been cliché and a huge understatement for decades, given his global reputation as an innovator in Japanese dining, in how he’s spun old recipes and fresh ingredients into fine visual art that happens to have exquisite flavours. Nobu Malibu, Matsuhisa Mykonos and Matsuhisa St Moritz are still relevant and going strong among sushi and kaiseki (multicourse dinner) connoisseurs for whom money is no object or when planning the ultimate special occasion meal.
As one would expect, working for a master of this calibre is a hard-won dream come true for somebody like chef Brian Ogawa, who honed his skills, résumé and reputation at the aforementioned restaurants. Like the best chefs and artists, he beat formidable odds professionally when COVID closed the world down. He deftly pivoted to a concept that not only fulfilled safety requirements while satisfying a demand for the best-of-the-best omakase (which loosely translates to entrusting the chef), but also promises to go the distance as a pinnacle indulgence for years to come.
Chef Nobu would indeed be proud of his protégé Ogawa, who with partner Jazmine Valte (who serves as director of operations), co-founded Home-a-Kase by Soosh!. The skills Ogawa mastered under Nobu (along with chef Katsu Uechi and his mother, among others) go toward a bespoke omakase menu by allowing for a collaboration with the customer to set up shop at his or her home with fish and ingredients sourced from around the globe.
The premium experience is an investment (US$400) per person, but it also indulges one in the fantasy of having one of the world’s best chefs as your private one for the night or the occasion. Add-ons include everything from a Japanese barbecue chef, custom sake and wine pairings, a dessert bar, and premium offerings such as uni, otoro, shaved truffle, caviar, and more.
What was the inspiration for Home-a-Kase by Soosh!, and how was it shaped by your time at Nobu Malibu, Matsuhisa Mykonos and Matsuhisa St Moritz?
Ogawa: [The circumstances of 2020] showed me that there is a whole different market other than Los Angeles. Work ethics were completely different there, and also the dedication and perseverance that other parts of the world put emphasis on. In America, we take a lot of things for granted, such as convenience of everyday life, be it getting products or tools, etc. It made me realize to be grateful every day for what we have and to be aware of the opportunities that are that are given to us.
Valte: The pandemic definitely played a major part in how we came to develop the Home-a-Kase by Soosh concept. It was the only way for us to work and make a living again. In addition, we wanted to help others in the industry who were laid off. We were able to hire prep cooks, servers, and dishwashers. Also, people were starting to go stir-crazy on lockdown and craving that normalcy of going out to restaurants, eating amazing food, and just being social. We were also in need of that! It was a win-win all around!
How did working for one of the world’s most renowned sushi chefs and restaurateurs inform your entrepreneurial interests?
Ogawa: It made me realize how challenging it is to run a big operation like the one he has. All in all, what I’ve learned from working for the biggest global brand of sushi restaurants has made me realize to keep true to yourself, know your limits and to always challenge yourself and the people you work with, to keep growing the brand and the concept, as it is always evolving!
When you developed Home-a-Kase by Soosh!, how did you envision this form of home entertaining taking off?
Valte: We instantly knew while developing Home-a-Kase by Soosh! that we were on to something, and knew it would be a hit during the pandemic and even after. In-home dining was the only way to get that restaurant experience we missed so much, and to have a pro sushi chef at your home making and plating each course just seemed way better than making your own food.
Our goal was to not only to create a special experience with delicious food, but also to heighten all of your senses with your curated playlist, the mouthwatering aromas coming out of your own kitchen, the beautiful plating, the flowers, candles, tabletop design, our presence, the service, personalized menus with your name on it, interactive tabletop presentations, and more. We even have a pink neon sign in an acrylic briefcase that we turn on at every “home-a-kase” that is kind of our open sign—Soosh is literally in the house!
Once we ease out of the pandemic, do you see Home-a-Kase by Soosh! evolving, and what changes are you predicting (e.g. having concepts at different prices; having versions for corporate events and retreats)?
Valte: Who doesn’t want a private sushi experience at your home?! The experience is so intimate and interactive, it really is special whether in lockdown or not. Our next project is to design our own space, so we can invite guests to an experience curated by us! We are also starting to collaborate with talented chefs, our favourite visual artists, musicians and designers on upcoming projects. Also, we started doing Soosh box drops, where we sell a limited number of Soosh boxes (our take on a chirashi, or ‘scattered sushi’ bowl) for pick-up that usually happen once a week before a home-a-kase. This is more so for exposure, so people can taste the food on a smaller scale.
What do guests learn from the whole experience about Japanese culture and culinary history?
Ogawa: I believe our clients will be shown a different take on the traditional idea of sushi, or even catering in the traditional sense of the word. We believe that there is no “one way” to do things, or to get a premium product. We try to break down barriers as far as keeping traditional, traditional and contemporary, contemporary. Of course, the basics need to be learned and mastered before there can be any new concepts that can be applied. We like having the high-end product with a casual vibe. We like to mix nostalgia and the future. I hope that we convey these types of feelings when we do what we do!
Besides its being a special occasion experience suited for the times, do you see it as an educational experience for the guests?
Valte: The guests can interact with chefs as much as they want, ask questions or just watch them pump out these insanely beautiful courses. Some have even been so interested, we started Soosh workshops to teach them how to make rolls or even take a trip to the Japanese market to learn about ingredients and what to buy. We have some clients now that have us come on a weekly basis for a more informal sushi dinner without the full on production. We are open to anything!
What famous chefs and/or family members were your biggest inspirations?
Ogawa: Mr Nobu Matsuhisa, Mr Katsu Uechi, and my Mom. Chef Nobu gave me the most inspiration by showing me that a small operation can become global and also by giving me lots of life lessons that I can always follow. Chef Katsu showed me that you can have a quality product at a reasonable price and also have a cool brand. And my Mom for pushing me not to give up, no matter what it takes, because one day it will pay off!