Chef Chat: Kata Robata's Manabu Horiuchi

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Ever since Kata Robata opened its doors on the corner of Richmond and Kirby, the praise has been constant. The heart and soul of the operation is Manabu Horiuchi -- or Hori-san, for short. We dropped in on him to take a look at his operations and talk fish.

**We brought a translator with us, as this interview was originally in Japanese.

Eating Our Words: How long has sushi been your career of choice?

Manabu Horiuchi: Since I was 18 years old, I have made sushi, beginning at Ginzo Sushiko Honten in Tokyo. It has been 14 years, and I am still loving my craft.

EOW: If you could decide on one fish dish that represents Hori-san, what would you decide?

MH: Nobody else makes scallop with foie gras besides me. This is my invention, and I want you to try it.

EOW: We have, it is outstanding. When did you move to America, and what was your first American food memory?

MH: I arrived to Texas 10 years ago, and my first food was Whataburger. It was a delicious hamburger, but what surprised me the most was the size. Oh my goodness, so big!

EOW: How has living in Texas affected your cooking and sushi menu?

MH: I learned how Texas loves barbecue and spicy with Cajun flavors. To me making American style is mixing together many different countries, and I keep this in mind when I create my dishes.

EOW: The other chefs in town have been coming to see your sushi. Have you felt like you have become a part of the culinary community in Houston?

MH: Not only sushi chefs, but American chefs have been coming in to say hi. I have felt very blessed they chose me to become a part of their family. They have helped me create new dishes and have inspired me with the art they create as well. This is really unique in the whole world, because in Japan most chefs do not talk to each other or help each other out. In America if you go to a restaurant, they will suggest you try their neighbor also. It is very special.

EOW: Where do you go to eat a good meal in Houston? What is your favorite dish?

MH: My favorite dish is anything my wife or mother makes for me. But my favorite place to go is Catalan to see Chris Shepherd.

MH: Is there a sushi chef who inspires you? How?

MH: Jiro Ono in Japan, and Masa from New York. Jiro Ono is 80 years old and is still a sushi master with all of his skills. He has been making sushi for over 60 years and is an inspiration for my life. Masa has raised the bar for all restaurants, no matter the cuisine. He is attempting to increase the quality over and over again until he is the best in the world. I respect and admire his admirations.

At the end of the interview, Hori-san told us we should interview his chef de cuisine, Jean-Philippe Gaston. Look for that short chat in these pages tomorrow.

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