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Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California

  • Two Dole Drive, Westlake Village, California, 91362, U.S.A.
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Masa Shimakawa

Chef de Cuisine, ONYX

“The only way to stay fresh in sushi is to create things no one else has ever done.”

Four Seasons Tenure

  • Since 2006
  • First Four Seasons Assignment: Current

Employment History

  • Park Hyatt Chicago; Hatsuhana, Chicago and New York; Tokiwa, Montreal; Kashima, Montreal; Yanagi-Sushi, Toky

Birthplace

  • Hakodate, Japan

Languages Spoken

  • Japanese, English

Hakodate, Japan may be an ocean from Los Angeles, but it’s just a dinner seating away at ONYX at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California, where Chef de Cuisine Masa Shimakawa holds sway. Born, raised and schooled in the port city noted for “perhaps the world’s greatest seafood!” by Chowhound.com, “Chef Masa” has created Asian-style beauty with the pick of the Pacific since opening the restaurant in 2006.

“I work with great seafood from all over the coast and inland, too,” he says. “Sea urchin from Santa Barbara, ocean shrimp, seasonal ingredients like spiny lobster – there is really no end.” Paired with prime produce from across the state and fresh herbs from the Hotel garden, Shimakawa’s creations are infused with the flavours of Japan, Thailand, China and beyond.

Unlike many bitten by the culinary bug, Shimakawa had no intention of becoming a chef when he started as a dishwasher in his teens. Soon there was no stopping him, including study at the Hakodate Professional Cooking School and his first job as a sushi chef in Tokyo. It took him five years to get comfortable with the discipline, he says, at which point he landed at the first of two sushi restaurants in Montreal in 1991. Positions in Chicago and New York followed before he found his way to Four Seasons.

Freshest ingredients, healthy preparation and enticing Asian flavours make ONYX a natural fit for the health-conscious focus of the Westlake Village Hotel. Shimakawa leads five highly skilled cooks preparing sushi as well as hot and cold dishes in classical style in the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen. ONYX also offers a special Ishi-yaki menu weekly, enabling diners to prepare their own dishes on a sizzling stone grill or fondue hot pot.

Ever cognisant of the importance of innovation, Shimakawa creates thoroughly original dishes using western ingredients in eastern style, such as Maguro “Tataki” with seared Ahi tuna, spicy corn salsa and sweet sesame soy, and Miso Gin-Dara with Saikyo miso-marinated black cod and sweet soy drizzle. He also leads the occasional hands-on sushi classes, part of the Hotel’s mission to educate guests about every angle of good nutrition. “People are nervous about preparing sushi at home, so I use only accessible ingredients.”

It’s hard to minimize the pull that seafood holds on Shimakawa. Indeed, when not working long hours at ONYX, he pursues denizens of the deep as a PADI-certified diver and by rod and reel. Not surprisingly, he even ties his own trout flies. “I’m intrigued by the detail and balance required,” he says, admitting with a laugh, “I think fly-tying is more difficult than sushi.”

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