Gene Kato
600 W. Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 822-9600

Biography »

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Gene Kato: It started with my family. In the Japanese culture, food is very important – it is at the center of the family. My mother would make tempura, and it would take us 3 hours to complete a meal. My mother always had us in the kitchen helping out. We moved here with I was 4 years old. My dad was a merchant marine, and it was his dream to come to America. He loved John Wayne movies and the steak he ate in the movies. John Wayne would only take one bite, and my dad wanted to finish the steak!

AB: Did you attend culinary school?
GK: I completed an apprenticeship in Japan and then went to Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. I learned the intricacies of French sauces. I tried to work in as many restaurants as possible to learn different cuisines, and styles – fine dining, casual, Southern, French, etc.

AB: Who are your mentors?
GK: Joel Robuchon – I respect his philosophy toward food, although I’ve never worked for him; Jeff La Berge – the culinary dean of Central Piedmont Community College.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
GK: Simplicity and knowing the customer. My food reflects an understanding of the American palate, while using Japanese ingredients. It’s very Japanese, but Americans can understand it. I don’t agree with fusion.

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
GK: Nobu – he’s older, has had more time to develop his cuisine; then Morimoto follows, and then there’s me – I’m scratching at Morimoto’s ankles!

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Gene Kato
JAPONAIS | Chicago

Twenty-eight-year-old Gene Kato was born in Tokyo and immigrated to the US with his family when he was four years old, settling in North Carolina. Kato learned the basic skills and techniques of traditional Japanese cooking from his mother; he found a passion for the American culinary sensibility from his father, who would watch John Wayne eating steak in his movies. After receiving his Culinary Arts degree from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, Kato apprenticed in Japan, mastering the fundamentals on which all Japanese cuisine is built – technique and flavor. Upon returning to the States, Kato worked at Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and then joined the multi-unit concept Upstream, based in Charleston, SC. While in the Carolinas, Kato was exposed to French and Southern cuisine, expanding his knowledge of flavors, ingredients, and cooking styles. While at Upstream, Kato met Miae Lim, and the two launched Ohba together. With the success of Ohba, Lim brought him to Japonais in Chicago. At Japonais, Kato treats his guests to modern Japanese cuisine that also reflects his understanding of the American palate.


Hirame (Fluke) Carpaccio
Chef Gene Kato of Japonais – Chicago, IL
Adapted by

Yield: 6 Servings


    Spicy Mirin Dressing:
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated on a wasabi grater
  • ½ small onion, grated on a wasabi grater
  • 3 cups yuzu juice
  • 4 cups mirin
  • 1/3 cup blended sesame oil
  • 3 Tablespoons togarashi spices
  • Soy sauce to taste
  • 1 (4-ounce) piece fluke sashimi
  • 4 pieces hidaka dashi kombu (Japanese brown kelp)
  • 3 cups small diced heirloom tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup sliced chives
  • 4 pieces Tokyo negi, ultra-fine julienne (Japanese green onion)
  • Freshly shaved bonito


For Spicy Mirin Dressing:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

For Hirame:
Cut fluke sashimi style in to very thin pieces. Place each piece over the kombu. Cover with plastic and marinate in the cooler for 3 hours.

To Assemble and Serve:
Place 5 thin slices of fluke sashimi on a plate. In a separate dish, place 1 Tablespoon of diced heirloom tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, and chives. Place in the center on top of the sliced hirame. Drizzle plate with spicy mirin dressing. Top heirloom tomatoes with sliced Tokyo negi and shaved bonito.

Wine Pairing:
Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre, France 2004

Interview Cont'd
AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
GK: I use sake so much, for almost everything – it’s a great medium. It’s a tenderizer, a flavor enhancer. When you burn off the excess alcohol, it balances out flavors.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
GK: Knives – without them I can’t do my artwork.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GK: For the cheese puff, I take tofu and high quality mozzarella. The combo is 60% tofu, 40% cheese. I bind them together and now I have a lighter, healthier cheese, and it doesn’t separate.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GK: What do you think characterizes great food? You can see their mentality, what they think is important. It’s a good way to evaluate mentally where they are.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
GK: Know the basics of your cuisine really, really well. That way, you can create anything. Get the most out of every chef you work with. Understand their vision and where their ideas come from. Then you can create your own vision.

AB: What places do you like for culinary travel?
GK: I’m going back to Japan to get back in touch with traditional tastes and flavors. I’d love to go to Spain and France – I’ve never been there.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path – in Chicago?
GK: Cho Sun OK – it’s Korean. They do sliced beef on the stone, and they have the best Kim Chi.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
GK: In Las Vegas and New York with this group – I’m a partner. Also with a cookbook on modern Japanese cuisine. And I”d like to start my own restaurant. It would be omakase style, a 20-seat restaurant, in the middle of a Japanese tea garden, like in Golden Gate Park, very Zen-like. There would be sushi, a robata grill, steamed fish, and drinks!


   Published: November 2005