Chefs Up Front: Q&A With Jeff Osaka

Chef Jeff Osaka talks about his sushi and ramen restaurants, and his upcoming role in “Chefs Up Front.”

Chef-Jeff-Osaka

Courtesy Jeff Osaka

Chef Jeff Osaka knows his way around Japanese food, owning both a sushi bar, Sushi-Rama, and a ramen joint, Osaka Ramen. The talented chef will be bringing his culinary expertise to the highly-anticipated event “Chefs Up Front,” on April 24 at the Colorado Convention Center, in support of ending childhood hunger.

Osaka talks with us on the tableside benefit, and his Denver restaurants.

What made you decide to participate in Chefs Up Front?

This is actually my sixth year now at this event. It’s something that I really believe in—ending childhood hunger. I especially have a vested interest right now because I have a four year old, and I’m fortunate enough that she is taken care of in that area, but I believe the statistic is 1 out of every 4 children here in Colorado goes hungry on a daily basis. And I think something that I can do, for my part, is participating in Chefs Up Front. If there is anything I can do to conquer the goal of ending childhood hunger in Colorado, I’ll do whatever I can to help meet that goal. I not only have a professional interest, but a personal interest in the event. All my staff gets behind it as well, a lot of them are happy to volunteer with me.

What are you most excited about for the event?

What I like about this event is that it’s very intimate. Even though there will be three hundred people coming, each restaurant will be cooking for a table of ten. So it’s almost like having this small dinner party within a larger party—that’s what I love about it.

What will you be making at the benefit?

I’ll be making a couple things, but the style I’m doing is nothing like what I’m cooking now—like sushi or ramen. It will be more like my old restaurant Twelve, that was located off Larimer and Park Avenue, where we changed the menu once a month—we were very seasonally motivated. We called it modern-American, but it had a lot of Mediterranean influence. It’s kind of my style; I’ll use prosciutto, but I don’t call it Italian food. Or I’ll use ginger, but I don’t call it Asian food. It’s my own personal style that I’ve developed over the years.

What makes Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama so unique?

A lot of the dishes at Osaka Ramen are things from my childhood, things I grew up with that my mom was cooking, like green beans and fried chicken. I grew up in southern California, so ramen was something I grew up eating, and not just the package ramen that everybody is used to. With the concentration of Japanese restaurants and the Japanese community, ramen was always readily available. I took that concept and developed a menu myself, which includes other influences besides Japanese, and with that concept we opened Osaka Ramen last year. I also opened a second location this last July in Cherry Creek.

The menu at Osaka Ramen hasn’t changed much, and it probably won’t as much as my restaurant Twelve’s did, because these are kind of our staples, so to speak. We don’t really have a signature item, all the items on our menu are pretty solid.

At Sushi-Rama, I think we filled a niche that hasn’t been around in a long time. There really has not been a conveyor belt sushi concept here, and I think it was just time, considering the neighborhood, RiNo, being what it is—a young, kind of hipster, very active area. Colorado in general is pretty health-conscious. Sushi-Rama is great because you sit down at the conveyor belt and you can serve yourself immediately, there’s no waiting to order unless you want something special. We have people come for lunch and they’re in and out in fifteen minutes. Despite being fast, we still use quality rice and fish. I have a chef that’s been doing sushi for over a decade. I give him carte blanche to put some of his influence into the food as well, and he adds spices, chilies, Pico de Gallo and other things.

Are there any classics that you like to put on your menus?

I think that the spicy poke (tuna) and the California rolls are the classic staples of the sushi bar. And we have some pretty creative alternatives too. We have one called the Pumpkin Dragon. It’s Japanese pumpkin that we put in a roll with a little avocado on top with drizzled honey—it’s really nice.

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