One of our favorite culinary masters in San Diego, Chef James Pyo of Blue Smoke and Blue Ocean restaurants has been dazzling our eyes and taste buds with his Asian-themed eats for years. Since we at DiningOut claim a particular love of sushi, we decided to ask him about the inspiration for each of his delicious plates—from rolls, to bowls, to robata.
How important is presentation at your restaurants?
Presentation is extremely important at all of our restaurants. We take pride in the beautiful presentation of each dish because we want the food to look as good as it tastes.
Walk me through your creative process. How do you design such impressive plates?
Throughout my 18-hour work days, I’m constantly thinking about new ways to improve our dishes. I observe my surroundings and I get inspiration from the little things around me. My ideas are like Lego pieces that I bring together to create something truly innovative. I also keep up with the latest industry trends and expand my skills through cookbooks.
How has your plating evolved over time?
It gets better with every dish that I create, because every plating is different. You can order the same sushi roll each time you dine, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the different ways it’s presented. I don’t want uniformity in food. It’s important to keep it fresh and fun so our guests have something to look forward to.
What are some of your favorite dishes at your restaurants?
I worked hard creating menus that feature all of my favorites. If I had to pick a sushi roll, though, the Rainbow Spider would be at the top of my list. It’s just so colorful. From the kitchen, I’d call out the Miso-Marinated Black Cod. Black cod is a commonly used fish, but we elevate it with a housemade miso marinade.
Which other rolls do you recommend?
If you like spicy food, I recommend the Albacore Delight. For something unique, the Tango Mango offers a twist with white tuna, salmon, and avocado on the inside, topped with mango, ponzu, and mango mousse. It’s savory, sweet, and just slightly tangy.
What’s a great drink pairing for sushi?
The Taru Cedar-Aged Junmai sake. The nice cedar and spice notes really clean your palate for the next bite.
—Interview by Erin Jackson