Food & Wine magazine has named Otoko chef Yoshi Okai one of their Best New Chefs in America.
The Japanese chef helped steward the 12-seat modernist kaiseki to a spot in the Top 5 in last year’s Austin360 Dining Guide. The restaurant, imagined by chef Paul Qui and New Waterloo Hospitality, is located at the top of a furtive staircase in the courtyard of the South Congress Hotel and opened in March of last year. The list of 10 winners from 9 cities around the country also includes Diego Galicia and Rico Torres, chef-owners of the also-12-seat modernist Mexican restaurant Mixtli in San Antonio, as Mike Sutter of the Express-News reports.
Okai relies on exceptional sourcing and artistic flourishes to create a host of raw and sushi dishes that comprise about half his 20+ course tasting menu. Tickets for dinner at Otoko (which runs $150 per person, without tax, gratuity or beverages) can be ordered a month in advance.
The chef, who has fronted several garage rock bands since moving to Austin from Los Angeles in the late 90s is almost as memorable for his colorful personality and flare as he is for his knife skills, often entertaining his guests with his ebullient braggadocio and infectious excitement.
“I feel like a rockstar! Still can’t believe I’ve been named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs. Crazy. When I got the phone call I almost screamed,” Okai told the Statesman. “I never in my life expected this. So honored.”
Okai joins a healthy list of Austin chefs who have previously received the honor, including Tyson Cole (2005) and Qui (2014), with whom Okai worked at Uchi and Uchiko.
“Food & Wine has a rich history of Best New Chefs in Austin, especially when it comes to cutting-edge sushi chefs,” Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed said. “Yoshi learned under the best at Uchi and Uchiko. But he’s added his own unique stamp at Otoko. The way Yoshi takes Texas into account is what most distinguishes his work—he incorporates hyper-local ingredients like henbit and edible flowers, and somehow manages to give sushi an unmistakable Lone Star terroir.”
Other Austin chefs to receive the honor over the years include Will Packwood (2001), David Bull (2003), Barley Swine and Odd Duck’s Bryce Gilmore (2011), Olamaie’s Michael Fojtasek (2015) and Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye (2016).
RELATED:Review from 2016: Unique Otoko captivates with Japanese flavor, style