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The buzz about the chef with a licence to slice

ANY way you slice it, Sushi Oyama is way more than a cut above and the 20-seat eatery is so popular that you should book a week in advance. Sam Riley lifts his chopsticks.

Barely out of high school, Takeo Oyama was honing his knife skills and learning how to slice the potentially fatal poisonous blowfish.

Licensed to prepare the deadly fish in two Japanese prefectures, the 31-year-old chef is now the man wielding the knives at one of Shanghai's finest sushi restaurants.

Oyama's background mixes both traditional and contemporary influences garnered from training both in Japan and abroad.

During his culinary travels, he has created Japanese cuisine using crocodile, emu and kangaroo during a stint on a tropical island in Australia.

His ventures abroad have also taken him to America where he turned his creativity to producing eclectic varieties of the sushi roll that has become an American favorite.

His international experience is something he applies to his latest restaurant venture, Sushi Oyama, a small intimate restaurant on Donghu Road in Luwan District, that seats just 20 people.

Fish from Japan is flown in daily from either the Tokyo Fish Markets or Kyushu Island, ensuring the freshest ingredients for the set menu Oyama crafts every day.

"I like to look at the reservation book when I come in in the afternoon and see which nationalities we have that night," he says. "Some people like salmon for example, while others not so much, so I like to design a menu with ingredients that will suit the customers taste and make them comfortable and satisfied."

On the second floor of the Diage complex that also house accomplished Spanish tapas restaurant El Willy's, Sushi Oyama is open just for dinner and only takes bookings in the afternoon between 2pm and 6pm. Opened in March, the restaurant has already created a buzz with sushi connoisseurs and it's now advised to book at least a week in advance.

Hardworking chefs

Oyama says the aim of having such a small eatery with limited opening hours was to create an unswerving focus on quality.

Diners can sit at a sushi bar and watch Oyama slice and dice his magic in the small open kitchen.

"I like this style and I like to talk to customers," he says.

As well as seeing how each delicate piece is created, diners are prone to spread the good cheer to the kitchen by providing a glass of sake to the hardworking chefs.

"Sometimes I can wake up with a headache," says Oyama with a chuckle.

The sushi set menu is a mix of 16 pieces inspired by Oyama's training in traditional Japanese cuisine.

Pickles and soy sauces are made on site and the sushi is so delicately prepared that Oyama recommends diners use their hands instead of chopsticks to pick up each exquisite creation.

"I make the sushi nice with a balance so the outside is hard and the inside soft so it is very easy to break if you use chopsticks," he says. "This is common in Japan and particular to the Tokyo style because sushi was a fast food and was originally eating outside while standing."

Using the best seasonal products, the menu begins with a cold shot of green pea soup.

Highlights include the seared toro salmon that has been barely grazed with a small blowtorch and is melt-in-the-mouth fresh and the baby abalone sourced from fisheries in Dalian, Liaoning Province, in China's northwest.

Originally from Hiroshima, Oyama began his training in cooking school in Osaka. By 19 he could cut blow fish and prepare Japanese cuisine and moved to Tokyo where he worked at the Sheraton Hotel.

In 2000 he traveled to Sydney where along with enjoying the Olympics he worked in the ANA Hotel preparing both Western and Japanese food.

The culinary journeyman briefly returned to his hometown of Hiroshima before heading off again, this time to San Francisco, where he made focused on making a range of sushi rolls in more American styles.

It wasn't long, however, before Australia was calling him back again.

In 2003 he worked in Port Douglas where he used uniquely Australian produce like Barramundi fish, crocodile, mud crab and kangaroo to give traditional Japanese dishes a decidedly down under twist.

Oyama's links with Shanghai were born out of a stint he did cooking in Hong Kong under master Japanese chef Toshio Matsudo in 2005.

Matsudo had worked in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Shanghai and opened two restaurants in Hong Kong.

"I was very lucky I learned very traditional cooking, more than traditional really," he says. "This style of cooking sushi and small dishes dates back more than 100 years and not many people know this style. I learned from him many things."

Sushi Oyama

Opening hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 6-11:30pm

Address: 2/F, 20 Donghu Rd

For reservation, call 5404-7705 (book a week in advance)


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