By Craig Chapman and Ian Hunter
Umami, literally translated in the Japanese language means “pleasant savory taste.” Chris Chern, owner of Melbourne’s Umami Restaurant and Sushi Bar, creates food that is nothing short of the meaning. “I’ve been here for one year and seven months,” Chris says, “I was working in Orlando as an executive chef and I started to feel like I hit my ceiling as far as knowledge and pay go. I originally wanted to move to New York or Los Angeles, but the previous owner of this space was selling it for super cheap. I felt I had to take the offer.”
Luckily, a few chance encounters with a variety of people who would eventually become Chris’s mentors changed his perspective about food and the industry. “When I was in Orlando once, I met a Japanese chef who took me under his wing and would teach me a lot.
He made me feel that learning sushi is almost like a martial art. It’s very disciplined, focuses a lot on detail, and takes a ton of practice. I think this was sort of a transition for me because as a kid, I was always into martial arts. Sushi connects both worlds.” But what is sushi?
“Sushi is just fish and rice. But the main focus is actually on the rice, and the fish accompanies the rice. So number one, you have to have really good rice. I buy the best rice you can get. The fish is just as important, so I use the best quality fish.”
Chris prides his use of high quality ingredients over all else, “I always use high quality ingredients. That’s what is most important to me. Working as a chef from the beginning to now, as I progress, so does the quality of my ingredients. It’s very hard for me to downgrade in the quality of anything, which sort of clashes with the ‘business owner’ side of me because you start worrying about the pricing of items which I’m happily willing to set aside for having a better product.”
Umami isn’t just some run of the mill sushi spot either. What Chris is able to literally bring to the plate is astounding and bigger in concept and taste than even the best sushi restaurants in the country; “My ingredients come from all over the world. From the Pacific, sources in Japan, Hawaii, New Zealand and locally as well.” Salmon, Shima Aji and Trevally are just a few of the fish he had on hand the day we visited. “My seafood changes from week to week. I feel that if I introduce these high quality items to the consumers palette, then they will have a taste for it.”
Chris is no stranger to the world of food; it’s been a part of his life since childhood.
The location of Umami was originally owned by Haru, and Chris’ mother was actually a server there for 10 years before the creation of Umami. She also owned a few restaurants located throughout Brevard. She now works with Chris in the restaurant. “She works the front of the restaurant, and I run the back. Growing up, my parents’ first business was a Chinese restaurant in Vero Beach and then here (in Melbourne) where Keke’s Breakfast Cafe is currently. I was four or five. I grew up in the restaurant. I didn’t have daycare, I was in the restaurant, so I was always around food.”
Umami’s Facebook page is updated every time new seafood arrives at the restaurant, so pay attention. While sushi is the main focus of the restaurant, Umami does offer other tasty Japanese cuisine you can’t find anywhere else. “I have a small niche of customers here who really like this kind of stuff, though I sometimes feel most people don’t even know I’m actually here or the kind of food that I serve. Brevard has a lot of sushi bars, but I don’t consider myself the same.” Next time you’re in the midst of the hustle and bustle of New Haven Avenue, a jugular of Melbourne where you’d expect to find run-of-the-mill chain restaurants, try the small, unassuming and highly rated Umami instead.
Umami Tuna Poke
- 4 oz raw tuna (sushi grade, cut into cubes)
- 1 Tbsp house blended soy sauce (regular soy sauce is fine)
- 1 Tbsp Sriracha
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3-4 drops chili oil
- 3-4 drops wasabi oil
- 1/2 teaspoon schichima togarashi (Japanese seven spice)
- 1/4 avocado (cubed)
- japanese daikon radish
- perilla leaf
Mix all ingredients except scallions, radish, and perilla leaf, into a metal bowl and toss.
Slice scallions as thin as possible. Place in bowl of water for a few minutes. Remove from water then set aside on a paper towel to dry.
Peel radish. Then, use a mandoline to slice radish. stack the slices on top of one another then slice into thin strips. Place in cold water for 10 minutes, remove, set on a paper towel to dry. Set aside.
Plate mixture in bowl. Garnish with scallions, radish, and perilla leaf. Enjoy!
About the writer
Craig Chapman is the Producer of Real Food Real Kitchens, a food media brand that is all about family, food, culture and history. To learn more about his TV series, magazine, and cookbook, visit RealFoodRealKitchens.com
Umami Sushi Bar and Restaurant
3042 W. New Haven Avenue | West Melbourne