Growing up OT worked in his family’s two traditional Laotian restaurants.
But as he grew up, the family decided to pack up, sell the restaurants and come to the United States.
Now, OT has found himself as the head chef at Maru Sushi, right next to Brewery Vivant.
“I’ve been in the kitchen my whole life,” he said. “But I never expected sushi.”
He eventually went to business school, and before long ended up in Knoxville, Tennessee. In Knoxville, he went into of the city’s oldest sushi restaurants and basically said, “I need a job.”
They said, “OK, we need a sushi chef.”
And so his sushi chef career began, taught by the Japanese lady who owned it.
“She couldn’t do much, not the physical part,” OT said. “She could teach, but couldn’t do it with speed.”
He’s been in the sushi business for nine years now, and came to Grand Rapids via Okemos, Michigan, and the Maru Sushi there. A friend got him the job, and the owner offered him the head chef spot in GR.
There’s an art to sushi that makes it different than other culinary styles, and it’s that part that OT likes.
“We have to cook in front of a watchful eye, but that makes it fun,” he said. “Every dish is unique. There’s still a boundary in the dish, but freedom for artistic expression and allows chefs to do their own stuff.”
He said that it’s nice because you can see the different backgrounds of chefs come together in the different ways they prepare the sushi.
And a chef is always learning.
“You merge things together,” he said. “You get better and better. You see some way that makes a dish nicer, faster, prettier and you add that to you ways.”
Eventually, OT hopes to use his business schooling and restaurant “schooling” to open his own place.
But until that day he’s going to keep learning and creating in his job at Maru.
“Someday I hope to run a successful business,” he said.
And that’s what he left me with. Either you have to be happy with what you do for a living, or do something that supports the habits and lifestyle that make you happy.
He seems to be quite happy with where he is.