Dai Fukasaku had music in his heart before a key change led him to seafood and sushi. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Dai Fukasaku had music in his heart before a key change led him to seafood and sushi. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Key change from music to sushi

Dai Fukasaku’s cooking philosophy is simple enough. It’s echoed in his life, where he appreciates being able to wave out his namesake restaurant window at local seafood harvesters as they sail out to sea and return with fresh food for him.

He believes in using every part of his ingredients, whether it be seafood or produce, inclusive of his goal to connect people to their locally sourced food resources.

The owner and founder of his namesake restaurant, Fukasaku, had become a music professor in his heart, and it seemed his destiny.

Originally from Tokyo, Fukasaku was born with perfect pitch.

“If the music is playing, I can identify what pitch it is without any reference,” Fukasaku said. He can see the notes in his brain, he explained.

Growing up in Japan, Fukasaku worked in his family’s restaurant. He did everything from washing dishes, to busing tables and serving. He didn’t think much about his time in the food industry. He saw it as a needed step to a musical career.

Upon graduating high school, Fukasaku left his home to study music at the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts for Music.

Fate struck before Fukasaku started his master’s when a friend invited him to work as a restaurant server in Ohio.

One day the chef asked Fukasaku to change his role — and that changed the tune of his life.

“My boss called me into his office and told me, ‘Hey, Dai, I need you at the sushi bar,’” he recounted. “I was like hell no. I know how hard the apprenticeship to be a sushi chef is in Japan.”

However, his boss was persistent. As “the only Japanese guy working here,” he was moved to the kitchen. Fukasaku conceded. He said he would give it a shot, but if he didn’t like it, he would go back to the front of the house.

Fukasaku began “hard-core Japanese style” training with a seasoned Japanese chef behind the sushi bar. The traditional training consisted of two sentences.

“Dai, stand behind me. Watch and learn. That was all his instructions,” he said.

It can take five to 10 years to be traditionally trained for the role in Japan, and Fukasaku didn’t find the training style to suit him. He began to watch videotapes to learn on his own. It was then something clicked.

“I found some similarity between music, singing, and making sushi. Whether you’re singing or cooking, you express yourself from the music you are given or from the ingredients you’re given. Once I found that similarity, I was like, ‘boom,’ this could be very interesting,” he said.

Fukasaku returned to Japan for a year before applying for a Canadian work visa.

“I couldn’t get along with Japanese culture anymore. I was missing North America. I was always interested in Canada, especially B.C.,” he said.

Being from a large city, living in Tokyo never felt like living by the ocean for Fukasaku because of the travel distance to the Japanese sealine. Photos of coastal B.C. attracted him to find a job at a sushi restaurant near the ocean. He ultimately landed a job in a Prince Rupert restaurant.

While the scenic views were everything they promised to be, Fukasaku felt a little disappointed upon arriving in his new home.

“I knew Prince Rupert [was] a fishing hub of the Northwest. I was hoping to see varieties of local seafood in the grocery — but I saw none”. What he saw was farm-raised salmon during the fishing season in Rupert.

He became connected with fisheries workers who taught him about the fresh seafood at his fingertips. He learned the five species of wild salmon that make the Northcoast waters home. He sampled fresh seafood like he had never had before.

A diver friend one day gifted him a sea urchin, caught that same morning. When he tried it, he was blown away.

“I didn’t like sea urchin in Japan … but once I ate the sea urchin from the shell, it was absolutely different. It tasted so much better.”

“I [have] so many experiences like that in Prince Rupert through my friends. Generous friends who are in love with nature and the ocean who want to share staples with me.”

Those experiences Prince Rupert has provided welcomed Fukasaku to keep the city as home and spark a new dream of connecting customers to the fresh and local seafood from their own backyard waters.

For just under two years, in Ontario opening a restaurant with a friend, he learned the framework to make his Prince Rupert dream a reality.

Returning to the coastal city in 2013, he found a cozy location in town, built a team, organized the establishment and opened his doors to the public. For two months straight, Fukasaku was fully-booked.

He said that moving into the role of business owner, teacher, and the boss was different and challenging.

Relying on feelings and instinct, he said teaching is not his strong suit because he has never been trained to teach. It is something he is working to improve at his business now located on the Cow Bay waterfront.

“Because I was serving Prince Rupert seafood caught by local fishermen, it made sense to have an ocean view — and I like watching fishing boats coming in and coming out” he said while gazing out into the harbour.

Fukasaku has taken inspiration from the community by connecting customers to local food.

When customers asked if they could buy the restaurant’s dressings, he saw the demand from residents for homegrown products.

Then the pandemic happened.

“That was a gift for me to slow down … I was like, ‘Wow. I can finally slow down and make plans.’”

Fukasaku did follow through with his customers’ requests and now sells house-made dressing. He stepped out further with the idea and has recently opened a community market to connect neighbourhood harvesters to Prince Rupert residents — and communities beyond.

His ultimate aim is to have the marketplace be his primary source of income and keep the restaurant side of his business as a hobby.

Fukasaku’s next big project is already in the works with a fishermen’s co-op. This will create a larger community where regional producers, farmers and harvesters can connect with Northwest consumers.

Until then, Fukasaku will continue to make locally-sourced dishes, wasting not a single ingredient.

His philosophy is simple. “Know your fishermen and know your farmers. That way, I can put more love and respect into my dishes,” he said.

READ MORE: Building a farm — and food security — where a northern highway ends

READ MORE: Metlakatla First Nation and Ecotrust Canada open community garden in Prince Rupert

Norman Galimski | Journalist
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Dai Fukasaku had music in his heart before a key change led him to seafood and sushi. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Dai Fukasaku had music in his heart before a key change led him to seafood and sushi. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

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