Charleston is such a foodie town that chefs are hiding in plain sight, out of the James Beard limelight, but still very much creating amazing food. This series profiles Charleston’s “hidden chefs.”
Yuichiro “Junior” Takebata is not only a hidden chef, but his restaurant is hidden too, sitting behind a Toyota dealership and a Hampton Inn Suites in West Ashley. But Takebata says he is just happy to be cooking in the United States. It took him a while to get here.
Takebata first visited in 2009 when he was 18, and vowed to return to live in the United States. It would take two years to get his visa and the skills he needed to work for Koichi Maeda, the family friend who owns Miyabi in Charleston, as well as other locations. During the two years, Takebata worked his way up from a dishwasher to kitchen helper. Then his boss in Kyoto allowed Takebata to shadow him. He befriended the purveyors at the fish market during that time and he made nigiri each day until the day his mentor said he had taught him all he could.
In 2011, Takebata brought his newly-honed skills to Miyabi in Charleston. He still buys his seafood from purveyors who source directly from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.
Favorite kitchen tool or gadget: My soup pot or pressure cooker. I use my pressure cooker for making soup, especially when I cook pork bellies or fish, which you need to cook a long time, but if you use a pressure cooker it takes not too much time and it has more flavor.
Three things always in my refrigerator: Soy sauce, a white fish like sea bass or cod, milk. I use milk for making soup.
Three things always in my pantry: Sparkling water, apple juice — I love apple juice. I quit drinking, but I have Pinot Grigio for my wife.
Favorite after-work hangout: I don’t really hang out around here. All we have is Applebees and the Waffle House and I don’t like junk food. In Japan, we had many restaurants open 24 hours called izakaya and I would go there.
Favorite Charleston restaurant other than yours: Wild Olive. And we just went to Chez Nous a few days ago. It was really good.
Favorite comfort food: A Japanese traditional food we call Buri-Teriyaki. It takes a long time to make. It is yellowtail marinated in a homemade sauce similar to a Teriyaki sauce and then baked.
Favorite smell: Coconut. It makes me feel very relaxed.
Favorite drink: Apple juice. One hundred percent juice.
Number of hours you work a week: 78
Customer pet peeve: When they eat with their mouths open and make a noise.
Most under-rated ingredient: Sushi rice. It’s the most important ingredient in sushi. When we make it, we cook it fast and after we cook it, we steam it for about 20 minutes and then we mix it with a homemade vinegar.
Favorite meal to cook at home: Kakuni (pork bellies). I boil it in a hot pot for two to three hours, then I cook it in a pressure cooker with sake, soy sauce, sugar, Mirin (rice wine) for usually six hours. It is very tender. I love pork bellies.
Best advice a mentor gave you: Mr. Koichi (Maeda, owner of Miyabi) told me many things, but I really appreciate that he taught me always have a question and make it clear. Always make sure I understand what I am being told.
Miyabi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar is at 688 Citadel Haven Drive and is open Mondays -Thursdays 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Fridays 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturdays 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.; and Sundays 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.