Chase Kojima, executive chef, Kiyomi

A lot of gratitude and enjoyment from food is silent so I love seeing the expressions on our guest’s faces when they are having a great time ...

After sneaking into his father’s restaurant in San Francisco when he was four, Chase Kojima’s love of food started from a particularly young age. This inherent passion for produce and culinary creativity inspired him to open Sokyo, one of the stand-out culinary attractions at The Star in Sydney, and take the helm as executive chef at Kiyomi at Jupiters Hotel & Casino here on the Gold Coast. Chase has brought an exciting and unexpected flavour to the Gold Coast’s dining scene and offers a new way to experience traditional Japanese cuisine. We caught up with Chase to chat cherished childhood memories and culinary dreams.

What first lured you into the kitchen?
As a child, I always watched and saw my father, who was a chef, go to work early and come home late. I wanted to feel what he was feeling and know the experiences he was having each day. My mother also helped out in the restaurant, which meant that I was there from a very young age, about four or five years old. I would stay in the restaurant tatami-room (Japanese-style private dining room) and it was my home most days of the week. I don’t really remember, but my parents always tell me that I would sneak out of the tatami-room and walk into the kitchen to see what was happening. I was fascinated by the kitchen.

Do you have a favourite food-related memory from your childhood?
There was a Chinese/American cafe right across the street from our family restaurant in San Francisco. I loved eating the barbecue chicken (American Texas-style) with fried rice and a milkshake. The place was so old-looking, I remember the counter seats were all made with old-school milk jugs and they had a music player on each table – the kind where you choose your song, put the coin in and cross your fingers that it plays!

What inspires you?
A lot of gratitude and enjoyment from food is silent so I love seeing the expressions on our guest’s faces when they are having a great time and tasting the food that we make. It drives you to keep going.

The Gold Coast seems to be in the midst of an Asian-food wave with new places popping up each week. What do you predict will be the next major food trend?
Japanese cuisine is still very strong in my opinion, we will probably see more Asian twist with Australian flavours. More bold and fun in taste, sexy vibes with casual atmosphere in the restaurants.

How much has the culinary landscape on the Gold Coast changed from when you first visited?
I first visited the Gold Coast three years ago and each time I come back I hear about all of the new and very good restaurants and bars opening up. The current culinary scene and where it is going will see more people visiting and moving from bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne because the standard of food is so great, but the lifestyle is so different. Here, you can actually calm down and enjoy each day like it is a vacation.

What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
I have too many, but if I can pick only one, my favourite is tuna. It’s hard to explain why I like it compared to other chefs because there are so many different ways to serve it! From wet ageing to serving it right out of the water, there’s so much variation in the fatty content, taste and texture. I love working with tuna, I’m always amazed how delicious it is when you get all the elements right.

What is your culinary dream?
My dream is to one day own a whole street block where I will have about 10 small restaurants, all Japanese but specific to each style and cuisine. There would be a tempura bar, omakase sushi bar, ramen street, soba store, tea garden, bento box convenient store, whisky bar and yakitori shop. The focus would be purely on the quality.

Any advice for aspiring home cooks?
I think eating and cooking healthy with balance is very important for our lives and health. Also educating young family members. Try sometimes cooking without any sugar or salt. Use coconut oil, brown rice and if you can make it taste good with those, it’s so easy to make other simpler ingredients taste delicious.

Finally, if you could cook for anyone living or otherwise, who would it be and why?
I want to get better every day, and the only way to improve is to get critiqued about your food and no one is better at this than other chefs. I would probably want Thomas Keller to try my food and then have a go at me about it!


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