Chef Junji Umezu of Zen Box Izakaya: Chef Chat

Categories: Interview

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Photo courtesy of Junji Umezu
Chef Junji Umezu of Zen Box Izakaya is a well-versed chef who was formerly the sous chef of Minneapolis Hotel's Restaurant Max and head chef at Wasabi Fusion Restaurant. We spoke with chef Umezu recently about his job and his life as a new dad.

Let's go back to your origins, what was your upbringing and where did you grow up?
I am half Japanese and Irish. I grew up in New York City after immigrating to the United States at the age of 11 from Japan.

Where did you receive your training and schooling?
I went to Johnson and Wales University in RI.

What does your name Junji mean?
My name Junji consist of two characters. The first part "Jun" means pure or honest and the "Ji" means leader.

What is one thing you find the most pride in?
Definitely my five-month-old daughter, Sophie.

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Tuna Poke Salad, an item on Zen Box Izakaya's menu
How would one describe your cooking style?
My style of cooking mirrors my two cultural backgrounds, I always incorporate an Asian element in European recipes and vice versa.

Where do you find your inspiration for your cooking?
My passion for cooking comes from my drive and love of perfecting new dishes.

What is something you would like the world to know about you?
When I cannot be found, the only place I will be is Hawaii, as it holds a special place in my heart, where I find a certain level of peace like nowhere else in the world. It feels like home to me.

What is your favorite pastime away from the kitchen?
Hands down being a new dad is my favorite pastime.

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Kimchee Ramen from Zen Box Izakaya's Menu

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