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Stateside Podcast: James Beard nominee Hajime Sato

Courtesy of Hajime Sato

Chef Hajime Sato, owner of the Clawson-based sushi restaurant Sozai, was nominated for a James Beard award in the “Outstanding Chef” category this year.

A renowned chef, Sato stands out for a number of reasons. His restaurant Sozai was named the 2022The Detroit Free Pressrestaurant of the year. It was also the only Michigan restaurant featured in Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants 2022 list.

But it’s not just the delicious food that makes Chef Sato stand out. It’s also his ardent commitment to sustainable cooking. At Sozai, you'll find namagi – a sustainable eel alternative made with catfish – and a Michigan roll, made with walleye sourced from the Great Lakes. Chef Sato is one of the few sushi chefs in the world running a sustainable sushi operation.

Extravagant spread of sushi from Sozai arranged on a black platter
Vikram Parvathaneni
Michigan Radio

“This [sustainability sushi] movement is not catching on at all,” Sato said in an interview on Stateside. “So 14 years ago, something like that, about 10 restaurants in the entire U.S. [were making] sustainable sushi…13-14 years later, how [many] more sustainable sushi [restaurants are] out there? Maybe about 10. It's about the same.”

Sato said the reason for this slow change is in part due to the profitable fish industry, and in part because of customers’ expectations of what should be on a sushi menu. Even so, Sato challenges the archetypal yellowtail and shrimp with some less familiar, but nonetheless tasty, items.

“We have this small snail called periwinkles, and that's [an] invasive species,” said Sato. “There is no predator, so we should be eating it. There's a lot of species like that [and] that's real exciting.”

In terms of developing your own sustainable food practice, Sato said to start by being curious.

“Start asking questions to the fishmonger or the waitstaff of the restaurant. And don't be confrontational. Don't, you know, challenge them, but ask the question, ‘Hey, where's tuna come from? Is it in season?’”

Hear the full conversation with Chef Sato on the Stateside Podcast.

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.