November 21, 2014

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Sushi With a Side of Nostalgia: Meet Chef Johnny

No longer can Sushi even be compared to short-lived food fads like the Dippen-Dots decade or the more recent Cronut-craze. This Japanese import is an integral part of the American society to the same extent that fortune-cookie-serving Chinese restaurants have become. Sushi is served at bar mitzvahs and as bar food. For lunch, a tuna roll is just as socially acceptable as a tuna sandwich. And on late nights when cooking is just too complicated, a takeout order consisting of fresh fish and a bit of rice is proving to be more popular than pizza.

Chef Johnny is not just another sushi chef who knows how to create elaborate takes on California rolls and how to properly fillet fish into perfect pieces of sashimi. He is far more than that. Chef Johnny is a constant in the lives of so many people who live near and far. For countless years he has been ever present serving up sushi, with a huge grin on his face and a never dimming twinkle in his eye. This sushi “Santa,” graces many adult’s childhood memories, and forever reminds the world around him to smile despite the ever-present craziness that plagues the world. He gives a damn about his customers and about stubbornly staying a solid source of comfort for the community around him.   

Chef Johnny’s career began as just another sushi chef working the line behind the counter-top fridges that display the day’s latest catch. He was one of the many guys dressed in all white wrapping rice in this particular outpost of Louisiana-based mini-chain: Little Tokyo. Yet slowly he began to stand out. His presence was felt the moment anyone entered the restaurant. His eager welcoming, his giant smile, and his bright eyes instantly made even the coldest of customers feel right at home. Plus, the sushi he served was damn good. Not only were his cuts of fish quite generous, but each platter was a museum quality display of artwork and skill that could make some grown men cry at its beauty. And on the rare occasions that Chef Johnny was AWOL, the little restaurant seemed to be completely void of life despite still being packed with diners.

Over the years, serving staff came and went. Cranky children ordering nothing but teriyaki chicken grew up and became angry teens demanding crunchy rolls drenched in sauces. Those same teens matured to overworked adults with more discerning pallets craving sophisticated slices of raw fish. Across the street from the little restaurant, the city developed and morphed into the chaotic world everyone is now accustomed to. Yet Chef Johnny keeps his youthful demeanor, his bight eyes, his chef cap and the position behind the same counter. Even the owners of the restaurant decide to pack it up and move out, so Chef Johnny became the owner of the tiny restaurant. The place has a new name, Uchi Sushi, but now it is even more so then ever “Chef Johnny’s” restaurant. For the hungry people of greater New Orleans, this remains one of this few constants that can be counted on. 

 He may not have been the first one to serve you rice wrapped in seaweed and you may not even like sushi, but Chef Johnny wants to make damn sure that you will still feel at home each time you take a seat in one of his chairs. Not only will you get some of the best fish you can imagine, but your soul will be fed some crazy fuzzy feelings of warmth and comfort that will linger far longer than the food in your belly.