Chef Kazunori and Tom Nozawa’s Sushi Passion

Photography Ryan Orenstein
Photography Ryan Orenstein

To Chef Kazunori and Tom Nozawa, sushi is a way of life. Quality is the main priority at the multiple locations of SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa, the more casual but equally beloved eateries that Nozawa opened before closing the doors of his iconic Studio City establishment Sushi Nozawa in 2012. As the SUGARFISH team celebrates the opening of its eighth location on La Brea, Tom and Chef Nozawa sat down with Haute Living to discuss their secret new Nozawa bar, why no one by any means should consider the master chef retired, and why he’s adamant that his patrons “don’t think, just eat.”

What does the word “SUGARFISH” actually mean?
Imagine a child eating his first sugar cube. For most people, eating their first SUGARFISH sushi is the same melt-in-your-mouth, “wow” experience. We wanted a name for our restaurant that would evoke that simple, pure sensation, and “SUGARFISH” fit the bill.

Tell us about Nozawa Bar. How did you come up with the idea, and how does it differ from the other culinary experiences you provide?
The SUGARFISH team, which includes my father, our four partners, and me, wanted to create a dining experience that would transcend most people’s ideas about sushi. We also wanted to find a way to continue fulfilling my dad’s vision of educating people about pure, tradition-based sushi. From there, the idea of Nozawa Bar began to take shape. We chose to create a quieter, more intimate setting so that – again, it’s all about the experience! – the food would really take center stage. Ultimately, Nozawa Bar is for people who really want to experience a wide — and somewhat adventurous — range of authentic sushi. We serve fish that most people have never tried or that is at least somewhat uncommon, including some of Nozawa’s favorites from many years ago.

photograph courtesy of DEX Studio
photograph courtesy of DEX Studio

Tell us about Nozawa’s mantra “Don’t think, just eat.”
For years, my dad has been telling people to stop eating with their heads. When people have preconceived notions — or worse yet, fears — about how food is going to taste or feel, they are stopped in their tracks. Those are the same people who might never enjoy the buttery texture of toro or the delicate perfume of uni. Nozawa just loves to serve people uni for the first time; he is delighted by seeing them smile and experience the new flavor and texture! Getting people to let go of their expectations and experience the food as it is… That’s where his “Don’t think, just eat” mantra comes from. I think that’s an admirable standard to follow.

Do you have plans to extend the SUGARFISH brand outside of California? If so, where?
We are entertaining the idea of looking into other locations in the LA area, and we are also exploring opportunities in NYC. However, we don’t have any definite plans yet.

What’s next for the brand? New locations? Another secret bar? Where, if so?
Nozawa Bar is a one-of-a-kind dining experience, so we don’t have any plans for another secret bar. As to what’s next, the SUGARFISH team is working on a new restaurant idea that is based on Nozawa-style food and is expected to open sometime in 2014. We are always on the lookout for new neighborhoods to open new SUGARFISH locations.


Though Chef Nozawa has retired as a sushi chef, he is still very hands-on with the business. How is he involved these days?
My dad is far from retired. He doesn’t man the sushi bar anymore, but he is totally involved with the SUGARFISH team. Plus, he still oversees the selection and procurement of the fish we serve and the training of our sushi chefs at both SUGARFISH and Nozawa Bar. He is still driven by his desire to educate people about tradition-based sushi.

What does Chef Nozawa hope his legacy will be?
My dad’s lifelong goal has been to educate people about tradition-based sushi. His single greatest joy is opening people’s minds — and palates — to the world of sushi. Sharing his love of great sushi that’s been simply and carefully prepared is, for him, as good as it gets. I think that he’d hope that he has helped everyone he’s served to rethink or redefine what is truly good sushi.

Would the Nozawa family ever take part in a reality food show or a cooking show? If not, why not, and if yes, what format?
No. Reality shows are personality-driven, and they are a distraction from what we are about. We aren’t interested in entertainment. Our sole focus is on the experience of the food we create and serve. The only exception we would make is if it helped to educate people about sushi.