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Honolulu's Strictest Chefs

No Soup for You!


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Illustration: Mike Austin

Chefs are notoriously antisocial, some to the point that their nicknames are better known than the names of their restaurants. What’s the story behind the epithets, the “meanness”? Why do we love them anyway? (Or do we?) We checked in with two of Honolulu’s grumpier chefs to see if it’s all just an act.
 

The “Sushi Nazi,” at Sushi Sasabune

You don’t go into McDonald’s and ask for a Jumbo Jack, so you don’t go to Sushi Sasabune for a California roll, says Seiji Kumagawa, aka the “Sushi Nazi.” And you don’t go to Sushi Sasabune to have sushi your way. Sitting at the sushi bar comes with instructions on how to eat each piece: no shoyu on this one, eat this in one bite. If you insist on a fork and knife or Tabasco sauce, Kumagawa may ask you to leave. It’s for these reasons he has earned his nickname, but he paradoxically explains his manner as caring for the diner. “We care [that] the customer enjoys best flavor and best sushi and best timing and best sauce,” he says. “If we care only the money, we don’t explain anything. We instruct the best way for the customer. If the customer don’t like that, we say in that case this is not your restaurant.”
Sushi Sasabune, 1417 S. King St., 947-3800.
 

"Angry Korean Lady,” at Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant

Angry Korean Lady is proof that the more people are scared of you, the more positive Yelp reviews you will get. The meaner Won Nam is, the more you want her to like you, if only because you want more of her great cooking. So you write down your own order, you get your own water, and you generally try not to arouse her ire, which if you follow the rules, doesn’t really surface. Occasionally, she lives up to her self-proclaimed title—she hung up on me twice (“I’m busy,” she said curtly.) when I asked to interview her. As noted on the menu, she’s busy because she’s the only one running the restaurant. But is she a one-woman show because she’s angry or is she angry because she’s a one-woman show? Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant, Suite  C119B, 725 Kapiolani Blvd., 596-0600.
For more on the Angry Korean Lady, see page 208.
 

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