Hideki Harada, 30
Chef and co-owner, Kaze OTR
Why We Love Him:
For bringing authentic Japanese cuisine to Cincinnati. And for the delicious and humorously named ‘Wa’ Castle turkey sliders.
A twist of fate landed Hideki Harada behind the sushi table when he applied for a part-time job at a Japanese restaurant while in school at Ohio State University.
“I inquired for a server position and the guy was like, ‘I’m not hiring servers, but would you want to train as a sushi chef?’ ” Harada says. “I was 19 at the time and I took the position.” But instead of dividing his time between school and work, Harada decided to go “gung-ho on sushi,” he says, and dropped out of college.
A year later, his father bought him a knife and that really sealed the deal. “I think that’s when he realized that I was taking it seriously,” he says.
But figuring out what you want to do and finding the patience to stick with it are two different things.
“They say there’s first lust and then there’s love. And so once that lust point passes, you figure out whether or not you really love whatever you do,” Harada says. “I think that midpoint is where figuring out is probably the hardest. During careers with my cooking, I thought about dropping out and then something happens, another motivational character comes in, and you realize this is what I want and that pulls you back in.”
Harada has been working as a chef for about 12 years now at local favorites such as Embers and Boca, but four years ago he left Cincinnati and the States for a stint in Japan to study sushi and Japanese cuisine. While honing his craft and reconnecting with his roots, he met his future wife, and in 2011 Harada moved back to Cincinnati alone to open the Japanese sushi bar/Gastropub/beer garden, Kaze, with co-owner Jon Zipperstein (of Embers).
Harada and his wife have since reunited here, and Harada is now the proud chef and co-owner of what has become one of Over-the-Rhine’s newest hot spots.
What aspects do you love about your job?
With an open kitchen, seeing people’s reactions when they eat — that keeps me going. I’m doing something with sushi and that gives me a drive. I can kind of change the mentality of sushi from what it was where people were just eating rolls and half-price sushi. I’m trying to change that vision.
How do you define passion? What are you most passionate about?
I am married, and with my daughter and my wife, I’m very passionate about keeping us together. And when things get ugly, there’s still drive in our relationship. I see that with my work as well and with the restaurant — every day doesn’t go smooth, but the passion is unbreakable in my eyes.
It’s Friday night after a long week. Where would you love to be?
At home. That’s an easy question.
What do you love about Cincinnati?
I love Washington Park; I think it’s the greatest addition to the city. There’s so many improvements nowadays, dislikes have been sort of dissipating. There’s nothing I dislike. I love this city. I’ve been in the city for 23 years now. As a kid I went to Findlay Market and can remember the smell.
Name someone that you love: role model, best friend, inspiration, etc. And tell us why.
It’s got to be my dad. He worked really hard but he somehow still made time. I admire that. When things got out of control, he was always in control.
How do you know when love is real?
When you piss them off and they still don’t want to break up with you. When they’re still around after you come home late on long nights.
What phrase or motto do you live your life by?
It was “Work hard, play hard.” But balance; balance is probably the biggest one now.