Hakodate, Japan may be an ocean away from Los Angeles, but it’s just a dinner seating away at ONYX at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California, where Chef de Cuisine Masa Shimakawa holds sway. Born, raised and schooled in the port city noted for “perhaps the world’s greatest seafood!” by Chowhound.com, “Chef Masa” has created Asian-style beauty with the pick of the Pacific since opening the restaurant in 2006.
Unlike many bitten by the culinary bug, Shimakawa had no intention of becoming a chef when he started as a dishwasher in his teens. Soon there was no stopping him, including study at the Hakodate Professional Cooking School and his first job as a sushi chef in Tokyo. It took him five years to get comfortable with the discipline, he says, at which point he landed at the first of two sushi restaurants in Montreal in 1991. Positions in Chicago and New York followed before he found his way to Four Seasons.
The freshest ingredients, healthy preparation and enticing Asian flavours make ONYX a natural fit for the health-conscious focus of the Westlake Village Hotel. Shimakawa leads five highly skilled cooks preparing sushi as well as hot and cold dishes in classical style in the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen.
Ever cognisant of the importance of innovation, Shimakawa creates thoroughly original dishes using western ingredients in eastern style, such as Maguro “Tataki” with seared Ahi tuna, spicy corn salsa and sweet sesame soy, and Miso Gin-Dara with Saikyo miso-marinated black cod and sweet soy drizzle.
We spoke with Chef Masa about what he has in store for us at this year’s Festival.
What are you most excited about with regards to participating in this year’s World Gourmet Festival?
I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with all of the participating chefs from around the world, as well as the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok culinary team.
What is the one dish you’ll be preparing that visitors to the festival shouldn’t miss?
My Maine Lobster Cocktail.
Describe your cooking philosophy.
I only use the best ingredients, stick to simple cooking methods, but aim for bold flavours.
Are there any key ingredients you’ll be bringing with you from home?
I’ll definitely be using seasonal fish from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and will be bringing serrano chili pepper with me from California.
What do you never travel without?
I never travel without special Japanese chopsticks for dishing-up and a variety of different knives for all-round cooking and preparation. And, of course, I’m never without my laptop.