American Sushi Chef Robby Cook Lets His Skills Do the Talking

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

At Morimoto, a downtown restaurant located in Chelsea, New York, sushi chef and Iowa native Robby Cook likes to let the fish do the talking for him.

To those who say they want to see a Japanese chef serve their sushi in order to get the “authentic” sushi experience, Cook says “Go ahead!”

“At this point, I’m in my career where it doesn’t really matter… if they want a different chef, then far be it…” said Cook. “I think my skills prove it and I’ve done my time.”

As he chats with our New York correspondent, Agnes Chung, we learn that Cook started out by working at an organic grocery store back when he was going to college and that’s when he and his friends would start making sushi on their own. (They got really into the show Iron Chef.)

Working for Chef Morimoto has been surreal for Cook. He was working at BondST when Chef Morimoto came in to eat on a Sunday night and called him over to ask him to swing by for an interview.

As Chef Morimoto put it, Cook “could be making sushi in Ginza in Japan…” but the same thing they are doing there, Cook is spearheading in New York.

At Morimoto, they really take pride in their fish and place a value on seasonality and freshness. They actually have their own company at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo where Chef Cook deals with them directly and has the freedom to keep the quality of the fish they order high. Cook says “Basically, it’s leaving… let’s say: Thursday morning, our fish is here Friday morning.”

Aside from making a name for himself in the Big Apple cooking sushi, Cook took the time to co-write a step-by-step book with Jeffrey Elliot titled "The Complete Guide to Sushi & Sashimi" on how to make sushi for home cooks.

Dishes

First up, Chef Cook will demonstrate how to make a nori-seared scallop sashimi with cucumber salsa. He starts by cleaning out a shell of an East Coast scallop and dusting the meat with nori salt. Then he sears the scallop to make sure the seaweed crisps up to season it. On the side, Cook makes a salsa with Japanese cucumbers mixed with plum vinegar, kombu (kelp) stock, and sudachi juice.

To begin plating, Japanese wakame is evenly placed as the base of the scallop dish, along with thin-sliced cucumbers. After Chef Cook cuts the scallop in five pieces, he places them over the vegetable base. He finally tops the dish with the cucumber salsa and herbs like purple mizuna, purple tatsoi, and baby cucumber flowers.

The second dish Sushi Chef Cook demonstrates his take on an East Coast summer lobster roll with Japanese ingredients. First, he cuts up the fully cooked lobster meat and puts it into a bowl. Then he adds Sancho mayo, wasabi tobiko, chopped dill, cilantro pepper, and soy sauce. He mixes everything up until sauce turns a light brown. On the side, he lays out seaweed wrap and lightly presses sushi rice onto the surface. The secret is to avoid smashing the rice.

Later, he adds Japanese rice crackers to give the roll a bit of texture. After Cook flips the seaweed wrap facing up, he places lettuce, onion slices and the lobster mix before he begins to create the perfect roll with his hands. With a bamboo mat wrapped in plastic wrap, Cook shapes the roll for the final touches. Lastly, he cuts the roll into five pieces and beautifully plates it.