At the new outpost of Sushi-Ko in Chevy Chase, neither of the guys running the kitchen is Japanese, and neither of them had ever eaten sushi in his native country before coming to the United States. You’d never know it though. Indonesian head sushi chef Piter Tjan and Guatemalan chef de cuisine Edwin Navarro are upholding the same standards as the original Sushi-Ko in DC’s Glover Park, turning out high-quality rolls and inventive seafood dishes.
Tjan, 28, had never cooked before he came to the States with his family in 1999. In 2000, a friend helped him land a job at Kawasaki in Baltimore. There he learned sushi basics: how to make rice, cut vegetables, and slice fish. In 2005, the Rockville resident took his skills to the sushi bar at Raku in Bethesda; he stationed himself at Sushi-Ko in Glover Park last year.
When Navarro started at the original Sushi-Ko in 1997, he was a dishwasher. A year and a half later, he moved up to chopping vegetables and peeling garlic as a prep cook. Three years later, he’d worked his way up to line cook. In his native Guatemala, Navarro was a farmer and rarely cooked. In his first years at Sushi-Ko, he watched then chef de cuisine Kaz Okochi—now at his own Kaz Sushi Bistro—and learned Japanese culinary skills.
We caught up with the pair to find out some of their food favorites.
Favorite fish to work with right now:
Piter: “Bigeye tuna.”
Edwin: “For me, salmon. We have two kinds of salmon—wild salmon and farm-raised. I prefer farm-raised because its easier to work with.”
Fish you’d love to be able to get but can’t:
Piter: “Toro, although it’s hard to find it right now. All my customers ask for it. Toro is so beautiful; hopefully next week we’ll get it.”
Edwin: “I’m happy with what I have.”
Soba or udon?
Piter: “Udon. Soba is usually just used for soup, but you can use udon in a soup or in a stir-fry.”
Edwin: “The same, I like Udon better. Soba is made from wheat, and I don’t really like that flavor.”
Masaharu Morimoto or Nobu Matsuhisa?
Piter: “Morimoto. I just read all about him in a coffee-table book.”
Favorite dish on the menu that’s not at the other Sushi-Ko:
Piter: “The sweet-and-spicy roll with eel, creamy avocado, and pickled ginger inside; outside, spicy tuna with scallions and masago. It comes with sweet soy sauce and jalapeños.”
Edwin: “Wagyu skewers and steaks.”
Favorite sushi restaurant:
Piter: “In DC, probably Kaz Sushi Bistro. I’ve been there a couple times. He’s Japanese and has been in the sushi business for so long, and he combines Japanese with French sauces.”
Favorite cuisine besides Japanese:
Piter: “French—I like to read about it. They have so many sauces!”
Edwin: “I really like Spanish food, I like Mexican food, like fajitas and quesadillas. I like to eat at Mi Rancho in Silver Spring.”
Most valued mentor:
Piter: “Morimoto. I haven’t worked with him, but I read all about him.”
Edwin: “Kaz. When I worked with him, I was just watching him all the time.”
Piter: “Yanagi, a Japanese steel knife. It’s about ten inches.”
Edwin: “I just have a chef’s knife. I don’t know what kind it is.”
Favorite kitchen tool other than a knife:
Piter: “A stone to sharpen my knives.”
Edwin: “Tongs. I’m always using my tongs.”
Tempura—seafood or veggie?
Edwin: “I like veggie. I like tempura squash a lot.”
Favorite junk food:
Piter: “McDonald’s. I like chicken nuggets.”
Edwin: “The same, McDonald’s. But not chicken nuggets—I like crispy chicken.”