Chef Spotlight: Eiji Takase

Having sharpened his knives in Chicago (Japanois), New York (Sushi Samba, Omido, Momoya) and Las Vegas (Shibuya at the MGM Grand), Tokyo native Eiji Takase brings an uncompromising commitment to craft, ingredients and adventurousness as executive chef at Baltimore’s Azumi in Harbor East. Chef Takase has been with Azumi since the restaurant opened in October 2014.

Get to Know Chef Takase

Culinary contributor Amy Langrehr sat down with Chef Takaseto chat about food, family and what’s great about Baltimore.

Was food a big part of your upbringing? Did you cook when you were a kid?
ET: Food was always a big part of growing up. I didn’t cook, but I watched my parents. My father was a rice distributor in Kyushu, Japan. My mother owned a Shidashi-ya (catering) company and cooked traditional Japanese food for big parties and events. I remember every Japanese New Year she would be up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the important national holiday.

Lots of kids get to choose the meal on their birthday – anything they want…to a point, I suppose. What would be your “birthday meal” now? What did you ask for when you were a kid?
ET: Birthday meal now would be a cheeseburger from Jimmy’s Diner in Fell’s Point. As a kid, I just wanted a sashimi dinner. My favorites were whitefish and mackerel.

Do you have a mentor? Any chefs who really helped you find your way?
ET: My biggest teacher was Chef Iso who I worked with at his restaurant Iso in New York City’s East Village back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I was his sushi chef and worked beside him for five years. I learned a lot about business and how to work with people from him. He graduated from university, which is rare for a sushi chef. Iso was a small restaurant that seated only 45 people, but would do over 200 covers every night. It was very famous and always had celebrities there including Kevin Spacey, Madonna, Brooke Shields and Robert De Niro. You won’t find many write-ups on Iso because Chef Iso preferred not to have press and always rejected restaurant reviews.

How do you balance home and work?
ET: My life has always been 70 percent restaurant and 30 percent home. My wife understands and has always been supportive. Days off are important so I can relax, watch movies and go for walks.

Do you have time to watch any food TV? If so, are there any celebrity chefs you really enjoy?
ET:I don’t really have time to watch any food shows, but I’ve always enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s shows and how he mixes food with culture. Another favorite celebrity chef is Giada De Laurentiis.

What do you like about Baltimore?
ET: I worked in New York City for so long so Baltimore is much more relaxed compared to there. I pay the same rent, but my apartment here is about six times the size! The people of Baltimore are nice. I live in Fell’s Point, so I enjoy walking home from Azumi along the water on the cobblestone streets.

What do you love about food?
ET: Food is very important because food affects people and you need food to survive. I’ve always had an appreciation for fish, meat and vegetables as well as for farmers, fisherman and nature itself.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the city?
ET: Jimmy’s Diner in Fell’s Point and Ouzo Bay in Harbor East.

OK, obligatory question – when you cook at home, what do you like to make? Do you have a favorite “go to” meal at home?
ET:My wife is always the one who cooks at home. I prefer not to cook at home because cooking is a job for me. I always appreciate when someone else cooks for me. When my wife cooks, I prefer simple Japanese meals, like rice and miso soup.

Explore Eiji’s Baltimore

Eiji Takase’s Featured Places