How Master Sushi Chef Derek Wilcox Brought His Japanese Training to New York — Omakase

By | January 19, 2020

– What I would say to my
mentors back in Japan, (speaking in Japanese) Good evening, welcome, how are you? I grew up in Virginia, northern Virginia,
suburban Washington D.C. I grew up eating pretty much
what everybody else eats, SpaghettiOs and macaroni and cheese. Being a foreigner living
and working in Japan, especially in a traditional
industry like that, you’re helpless at first,
kind of like an infant. This is okoze, called goblin fish or
scorpion fish or stonefish. And then, you kind of go through an adolescence or teenager year where you’re kind of rebelling against it and then, you go to the point where you realize that
rebelling against it isn’t helping you at all, and then, you’re basically an adult. These spines are venomous. There are these little poison sacs along the side of the spine. It’ll sit along the sea floor with these spines up to protect itself. You kind of have to, if you
just graze it with your fingers, you probably won’t get any venom, but if you stab yourself,
it injects the venom. Even when it’s not alive anymore,
it will inject the venom. And this guy won’t kill
you but it’s very painful. There’s some thrill about eating something that’s trying to kill you back. I actually did fugu before I did okoze. So, I was kind of over the
poisonous fish nervousness by that point. But really, the danger is really to the fishermen and the chef more than it is to the
diner with this fish. So the first thing you do
is to get the spines out by cutting down on each side. All right, I’m going to
have to move fairly quickly ’cause we don’t have a lot of time. So first you got to get the
eyes out, then the guts. Oh, this one has eggs, which is nice. My first day at Kikunoi (chuckling). So, Kikunoi is kind of famous in Japan for being a really,
really hard place to work. But I didn’t know that. We’ll serve more than 100,
150 people for dinner, which is large in Japan. It’s very traditional kaiseki, so you learn a lot of
traditional techniques across all of Japanese cuisine, not just say, sushi or tempura
or something like that. You learn the whole breadth
of technique, which is great. The first Michelin guide
came out in Kyoto in 2008, I think it was. And they got three stars, and they’ve kept the
three stars since then. Chef Murata is passionate about showing what’s incredible about Japanese cuisine and spreading it around the world. That’s probably the
reason why they let me in. They told me 16 hour days,
which was actually not true. It’s more than that. I wasn’t ready for that. I wanted an immersive, tough experience but nobody’s prepared for that. Most of the kids who go there
quit in the first two weeks. These are Japanese kids, of course, coming from top-level cooking schools, or were the children of famous chefs. And they quit in two weeks, most of them. I’ve done a lot of octopus, and this is the only way
I’ve ever done it, so. Let me get some of that ink off. And these are the eggs of the octopus. Here, you can see where
the membrane is broken, you can see the individual eggs, they’re very small, very tasty. This is a coarse, flake-style sea salt. You don’t want to use like, kosher salt ’cause it’ll give it a strange flavor. I think after about six months,
your body kind of adjusts, and it gets little easier
in terms of physically. And then, you start to
get more responsibilities and then it gets tough again. I think not knowing
what’s going on so much, and not understanding when
I was being chewed out in Japanese, at least at first, kind of helped me, maybe to stick it out. I ended up staying there
almost seven years. I probably didn’t settle in
until about my sixth year, in terms of not just the language but also just fitting in in
the social environment at work. Now this octopus is squeaky clean. All the slime is out
and we cut into pieces. And you can either leave the siphon on the tentacles, I’d take it off, I’d take it off and
butterfly open the head, and then split the tentacles
starting here at the back. And this one’s already had
the beak removed in Japan. So, they’ll kind of attack each other and you’ll get this like, bite marks if they don’t
remove the beak, so. (thudding) It’s almost like, if you
give someone a massage, kind of like, a deep massage, and you kind of feel that
there’s knots in their muscles, that’s what it feels like. (tapping) This is zarame. This is basically a Japanese version of demerara or turbinado sugar. It’s a raw sugar or washed
sugar from southern Japan, where they do sugarcane production. You put in the tentacles by kind of dipping them and
pulling them out a little bit, and dipping them and pulling them out. And that’s to get a nice
curl on the tentacle. Then the head can go in too. After working in Kikunoi for seven years, I was thinking of coming
back to the United States, but I realized that in the U.S., sushi is by far the most
important Japanese cuisine. Just to have the professional skill, I wanted to train in sushi
for at least a few more years. So I went to Tokyo and
trained at Sushi Aoki in Ginza for another three years
before I came back. Kaiseki in Kyoto, is
not just a tasting menu. It’s a cultural experience. And it’s plugged into all these cultural and craft elements in Kyoto. And then you go to Tokyo, and it’s more like a restaurant here, where you’re trying to
just put together a meal that makes people happy. It’s nowhere near as demanding. I think what makes the menu here at Shoji different from other omakase restaurants is it’s a combination of the kaiseki and sushi. So that tai has got to be 10
years old, I’d say, maybe 13. For tai, there’s kind of sweet spot at about two and a half kilos, where if it’s too small,
it doesn’t have enough fat. And if it’s too big, it’s still good but you get a little bit less yield because the tendons get larger and you can’t use the parts that have a lot of tendons in them. This is kohada, gizzard shad. You sort of have to go through learning, not just the language but
you know, body language, and what’s expected of you
in the workplace in Japan, which is totally different from here. Work in Japan is your life. When in Western culture,
I think, in general, I know in America, you can
mimic, you can mirror people. And it’ll get you a lot of places that if you feel uncomfortable
in a social situation or you don’t know how to act, if you mirror the person
you’re with, it’s a good guide. In Japan, it’s a very bad thing to do. The thing is, in Japan, it’s hierarchical. So every relationship, you’re either above or below
somebody for the most part, especially at work. If say, a chef is telling
you something to do and you mirror even their body
language, that’s very bad. I mean, if they know that you
don’t know what you’re doing, they might put up with it. But most of them would be just furious. Also, once you get some responsibility and you’re responsible for
some of the younger cooks, if you mirror the way they talk to you, they’ll assume that you’re below them, and they won’t listen to you and they’ll actually
start talking down to you. You have to learn how to
act in different situations, and you have to think what you’re supposed to be
doing in that situation. There’s so many different
kinds of eel around the world. As far as Japanese food goes, there’s three major ones that you eat. There’s the anago, the
unagi, and the hamo, which is this guy. Hamo is a kind of eel, it’s sea eel but it’s not
the normal sea eel, anago. It has the same richness that eel has, but it also tastes like
a white-flesh fish. In western Japan, people are passionate
about it during the summer. If you go there, you’ll have it a thousand
different ways every place you go. Hamo is not just a great fish in terms of its quality and its flavor, but it’s a great achievement
in Japanese cuisine. It took a lot of ingenuity and skill to develop a technique
to make hamo edible. After I learned how to do it, I didn’t want that skill to be a dead-end. And I want to pass it along to the people that work here also. All the eel are funny. It’s not like a normal fish. It’s more like an animal that then went back into
the ocean or something, and lost its legs. This one is from
Awaji-shima, Awaji Islands, which is off of Osaka. There’s sort of a strait between Kyushu and the main island and Shikoku. And it’s very nutrient-rich but also fast-moving ocean currents. And all the fish from there, are particularly fatty but not flabby because they have to be athletic to survive in the fast currents. It’s one of the best places
for fish in the whole world. On the inside, eels smell like an animal smells on the inside. They don’t smell like a
fish smells on the inside, particularly hamo. This part looks kind of normal
compared to a regular fish. But instead of taking off the whole filet, we’re going to butterfly it. And this part is different. You come from this side. And this is the kind of
part, the difficult part ’cause it’s very thin. And you don’t have a whole lot. Okay, that was the first difficult part, getting out the backbone. The ribs are also difficult to remove. Well, the hardest thing
is cutting the bones because you have to cut through the flesh, through the bones, but
not through the skin. And the bones are hard, they’re calcified. They’re not soft like
some other eel bones are. But you need a very thick, heavy knife to get through the bones. You know, it’s almost
like playing the violin. You have to learn how
to do it step by step. The knife is a honekiri-bocho, which means bone-cutting knife. So this is the bone-cutting knife. If you look at the edge, you
can see it’s quite thick, about a quarter-inch thick. It’s heavy and there’s
no weight in the handle. The handle is just wood. It’s basically weighted like a machete. And you need that weight
to get through the bones. (cracking) You’re hearing the bones cutting through. Yeah right there, there’s about 10 bones. So, maybe 80 rows of six bones. So, hundreds of bones. You want to cut about
every millimeter or two, and that makes the bones small enough that you won’t notice them. Even if you’re not serving hamo itself, the muscle control that you need to do it, is an important training step
when you’re becoming a chef. I think what makes the menu here at Shoji different from other omakase restaurants is it’s a combination
of kaiseki and sushi. I wanted to learn Japanese cuisine, but I wanted to learn it
in a way and to an extent that no one had done before. So I needed to do something
that nobody had done before. This is okoze, sliced very thin. A little bit of its skin has been blanched and is in the middle. If I were doing French cooking, I could work five days a
week and 12 hours a day. But no, I’m doing Japanese cooking, so I have to work six days
a week, 18 hours a day. So this is the hassun, which contrasts something from the ocean and something from the mountain. This octopus is from
Sajima island in Tokyo Bay, poached until tender. And new potatoes from Hudson Valley with snap pea, also from Hudson Valley. Hamo with bainiku, which
is pureed pickled plum. You have to really, really want to do it. You have to be passionate
about it or you’re gonna quit ’cause it’s so difficult. I kind of couldn’t quit,
even if I wanted to.

100 thoughts on “How Master Sushi Chef Derek Wilcox Brought His Japanese Training to New York — Omakase

  1. ali bazzi Post author

    I bet you that his wife is a Japanese school girl Loli, and he sleeps on a captain Levi body pillow.

  2. Peter Elnathan Post author

    Dude literally trained like a doctor to become a chef, that's dedication right there!

  3. the last man on earth Post author

    And at the end the fish and chips from round the corner tastes much better.

  4. Jonnacell Taguibao Post author

    When he said Unagi, Ross came to my mind. 😂😂😂

  5. Henryk Gödel Post author

    18 hours a day and 6 days a week? That guy is going to burn out before his time.

  6. Assrol Paint Post author

    Currently working on sushi king restaurant and yes there ton of things to learn so stressed …still thinking either to quit or go on😭😂

  7. jolteontrainer Post author

    This dude taught me so much about the culture while cutting up meat. He is very pationate about what's important to him. This video is very facisnating.

  8. Kaitlin Miks Post author

    He speaks Japanese really well for someone who's been there for 7 years. 18 hour work days plus learning Japanese to that level? I don't think he believes in sleep. Much respect for him.

  9. Ꭰᥲʀκ͢ ᗰᴀɢᴇꪜꪜꪜ Post author

    Its amazing how his name is pronounced Derek Wilcocks

  10. gulmina khan Post author

    Is it for like tasting? Or for extra small man. I mean why would a man order 2000 dollar worth of plate for a tiny potato and two small pieces of octupuw with a single pea. And he woudk be going home to eat something.

  11. MrGoatflakes Post author

    tf was up with that scorpion fish? look liked something out of Day of the Dead D:

  12. Damir Mešić Post author

    My God, this guy is a badass, I want to meet him and bow to him

  13. valentin65 Post author

    I think all of these Western sushi chefs are late to the party. The bandwagon already has moved on.

  14. Long 101 Post author

    This looks better of an art than those dots in the gallery near my place. Japanese cuisine is basically the finest OMG

  15. Fine Wine Daily Post author

    His comment on working 18 hours a day, 6 days a week sounds impossible. If you just commuted, worked, ate and took a shower you'd only get 4 hours of sleep every night your entire life. Can you even function on years of just 4 hours of sleep?

  16. danielvandam Post author

    This was way more interesting than I thought, because he spoke a lot about actually going to work in a top restaurant in Japan, really cool

  17. Dave Elzacky Post author

    Japanese Chefs : White boy, you know nothing about sushi!

    Derek : Hold my Yanagi…

    Japanese Chefs : NANI INTENSIFIES

  18. Hamza Turan Kubilay Post author

    Pelin Keskin napıyosa nası postmodern bi dünya oldu.

  19. The plague Doctor Post author

    Not only he makes sushi but he also can speak Japanese damn this guy was so cool

  20. kmook76 Post author

    18 hours a day. Nah. You'll be better at your job if you get your 8 hours of sleep.

  21. Bonified Good Post author

    I wanted to be a chef growing up and I did work in restaurants but never the level where these guys are! I'm totally impressed!

  22. Girts Astronauts Post author

    why complicate simple things and sell for 40 $ a piece? this guy "trains" to rip off stupid people who believes him, saying it's very extraoridnary to cut fish in half, and I have to train for it 7 years, 6 days a week for 16 hours… c'mon. That's a bull crap.

  23. Micheal. G Post author

    Am I the only one who really against hierarchy system ? Like if u want respect you gotta earn it not demand it. It make you less credible if u have to ask someone to respect you

  24. devL Post author

    working 16 hours a day? this guy is definitely a virgin, or at least single. No wonder the japanese population is on the way down

  25. David Solt Post author

    I wanna try to do it but first I'd need to learn to speak Japanese then learn more Japanese cooking just to be prepared.

  26. WEEDmonsterr 420 Post author

    Stone fish, the worst pain known to man…

    Billy Connolly

  27. chiguazo Post author

    the training sounds almost like a a navy seal training, 90% of the guys quit on the second week. Wow much respect for this guy, after all he went through still sounds humble and amiable.

  28. T Prime Post author

    His back was literally against the wall, the only way to continue living, for him, was to succeed, or his life would be over.

    You need that fire on your ass to truly succeed and excel at ANYTHING.

  29. alain disk Post author

    sorry but you don't have create something new !! you have to follow the tradition to perfection…it make me seek how you talk about like business and by the way you are not a master for me ( you good ok ) the master is your teacher . Master and disciple(u)

  30. Esti Shtein Post author

    I can watch him handle fish and listen to him all day.

  31. Eric Rios Post author

    They say when you love what you do you don’t work a day in your life. No one ever said it’s a walk in the park, but the passion, the dedication, the sacrifice. I strive to find this kind of purpose.

  32. Mike Ll. Post author

    Chef: I work 18 hours a day.
    Japanese: buttt the day has 24 hours.

  33. Tom Bobtail Post author

    Raw seafood, what you eat if you don't mind getting parasites. Doesn't matter how fresh or expensive it is. The animal contracts the parasite in the ocean. I dated a woman who got a parasitic worm in her brain from a very expensive Japanese restaurant and it nearly killed and disabled her. Absolutely not worth the risk and a fact hidden by the Japanese government to protect tourism. Do a google search.

  34. Aurelijus Langvinis Post author

    I wonder what regular Japanese people think about guys like this Chef Derek Wilcox. who adapted their culture. Would they call him culture vulture? or they would be proud of him?

  35. Flur Post author

    They remove the beaks off the octopus while they are alive. Being in captivity together probably makes them aggressive. Not even rudimentary consideration is given to animals. This to cater to the finest, most luxuriant whims of humans.

  36. The Excel Project Post author

    Only thing I heard is 'muscle control'. 😁😁

  37. Junglewalker Arts Post author

    This guy just sharing the unbelievable how intense the Japanese way of working. No wonder sushi made by proper chef taste amazing.

  38. Junglewalker Arts Post author

    Beside his perfectionist in sushi this guy also have more knowledge in Human Behaviour and Social Science than those students. He mastered in Japan. Solute

  39. GOD๛Mᴇᴛᴇᴏ真神 Post author

    See the eye bags he has. Mad respect for his hard work

  40. Štefan Gabura Post author

    The depth and structure of insights that this guys provides is amazing.

  41. GoPro Dog Post author

    Any outsider who thought he understood what a Japanese person told them is fooling himself. No fekking way, even if you speak Japanese.

  42. El Houstone Post author

    This guy acts like he went trough navy seal training for cooks

  43. Kyomi Phantom Post author

    man his English is so good for a japanese sushi chef.

  44. Draconic Windbane Post author

    this is why japanese language is bad, the communistic heiarchy im better than you views never left

  45. Sunny W. Post author

    Eyeballs, slimy tentacles, fish heads and egg sacs. How do people find this appetizing? Honestly, I don’t get it.

  46. Anthony Bortolazzo Post author

    More than 16 hour days……

    I'm not going to lie. Mastery is cool and all, but I think people in general have a toxic idea of work. The whole world is working themselves to death.


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