Makoto Okuwa

Don’t call him just a sushi chef.

Don’t call him just a sushi chef.

According to the culinary expert himself – Makoto Okuwa, executive chef and partner at Sashi restaurant in Manhattan Beach – and to the restaurant’s South Bay regulars, he’s so much more. He’s an innovator who believes in taking the principles of traditional Japanese and sushi cuisine and revitalizing them with flavors and ingredients from around the world.

A lover of cooking from a young age, Okuwa’s journey in the kitchen began back in Japan at age 15 when he quit school to shadow a sushi chef. At 26, he landed a restaurant gig in Washington D.C. and later had the good fortune to meet Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, eventually working for him as the executive sushi chef at Morimoto in Philadelphia and New York.

But Okuwa had dreams to start his own oceanside restaurant. Two years ago he opened the doors of Sashi with business partners Jeff Benson and Greg Harris. Okuwa creates dishes that generate buzz from LA to NY. Sashi is anything but traditional Japanese cuisine. Okuwa infuses American, Italian, Spanish and other European cooking flavors and techniques. On Tuesdays you might find him walking across the courtyard to pick up fresh, seasonal items from the Manhattan Beach Farmers Market.

It’s this uniqueness in flavor combinations and presentation that keeps regulars returning and draws the attention of foodies. In July, Sashi hosted an Iron Chef America viewing party with five renowned chefs, offering food, cocktails and the premiere of Okuwa’s recent battle on the TV program. And in August, Sashi was one of four handpicked restaurants to be a part of Wolfgang Puck’s 26th annual California Spirit at the Pacific Design Center, a food and wine event to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

“It’s about pushing the envelope and doing things that haven’t been done before,” said Okuwa. And that means from first spice to final presentation. “People eat from the eyes and nose first, so presentation is important,” he added. “I’m developing my own cuisine. I want to create unusual stuff and have my own signature flavor.”