Chef Liu, who hails from a Taiwanese province, is now serving up the tastiest sushi dishes in New York at Kōyō! Chef Liu, who has lived in Sunnyside, Queens, for almost two decades, continues to travel in order to be exposed to different food cultures – trust us, you will taste his inspired passion in every palatable plate!
“When I moved to the United States my father told me to study and go to college, but I wasn’t so great at studying! I got my first job while in high school as a part-time dishwasher in Manhattan, and that’s how I met my mentors, Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim. Together they owned one of the most popular, new sushi style restaurants called Neta, where I witnessed all the chefs working with a real passion. My teachers showed me how to look at things from a different angle, try different restaurants and to inspire myself. You can find beauty while walking on the street, even from the leaves falling from the trees.”
Chef Liu, who is known for his creative culinary cuisine, worked at the renowned Eleven Madison Park while waiting for his teachers’ new restaurant to open. He also noticed some very big differences when it came to operating a kitchen and serving different delicacies. “This was my first time working in a non-Japanese establishment. Being in a Japanese kitchen is like being in the military. It’s so organized – you see people working hard just to peel a potato, it’s all about perfection. When you work with a Japanese chef, you have to understand what they need before they ask you. Even the yelling and screaming styles are different. When Shuko finally opened in Union Square, it really introduced new techniques and was a more upgraded space and experience than Neta. As an assistant sushi chef, I had to combine my experience from Neta and Eleven Madison Park. I also had to learn the basics, such as fileting fish, cutting vegetables and even making coffee for the teachers. This was a very old-school type of training. Even after work we would still talk about food and the menu. Everything in the new space was cleaner and more organized. They also had a high counter, which was a new concept at the time. We were one of the first. This allowed the customer to be at the same eye contact level as the chef – traditionally, Japanese guests have to watch you. This was a big step in equalizing everyone.”
Before Kōyō opened in November, Chef Liu made one more stop on his culinary tour working at Ichimura at Uchu. He is excited that he can now ride his bike to work – after all, Kōyō, which is located in Astoria, Queens, is right in his own backyard!
“Kōyō is super special to me, it’s a true family. It’s a very small restaurant, as there are only six to seven us working there, including myself and the owner. I followed the owner for many years, and we provide one of the best family staff meals. Every day is different. Before I took the job, I said we need to treat the staff as best as we can. We also change the menu every season based on whatever is available. The fish market gives me information based on the conditions in the sea as well as weather changes and possible hurricanes, so that I can choose what to order and what kind of dishes to put on the menu. We get everything from Adachi, the second largest fish market in Japan – they have two large fish markets. I stayed on the island for one month and just ate! I traveled the whole island, from north to south, in order to find the best fish and the best wagyu beef. I was so incredibly inspired.”
The restaurant, which has two seatings, also offers two menus. The sushi omakase menu is $135 and includes Sunomono, Suimono, 12 Pieces of Nigiri, Cut Maki and dessert. The mouthwatering kaiseki omakase menu, which is $175, includes a salad dish, a caviar course, a prawn head from Japan and tempura. Chef Liu likes to showcase different cooking skills. He even puts wagyu beef with wild vegetables in a uda box before dipping it in different condiment sauces. Most restaurants use wagyu beef from the grill or pan seared, but by steaming the vegetables without seasoning, people can enjoy all-natural flavors. They also provide a ponzu sauce and a citrusy, sesame seed sauce.
“At the end of December, we switched from the fall to winter menu. We introduced a codfish roll in a tempura style with winter truffle from Spain. I get bluefin tuna from Spain – 95 percent of restaurants are using tuna from Brooklyn or Spain, only a couple places are using tuna from Japan. I think we really have to give more credit to tuna from Spain. It has more consistency and less mercury, yet they’ve never given Spain tuna a certificate. In 2015, while working at Suko, I introduced my favorite rice from Tokyo, called kinmemai. I was first introduced to this rice on a farm in Tokyo. The texture is amazing and it’s super healthy, tasty and also nutritious. From the food to the presentation to the service,
I just want the customer to have the best of the best.”
Kōyō might be a small space with just eight seats at the sushi bar, but Chef Liu ensures every guest enjoys an unforgettable experience.
37-12 31st Ave.
Astoria, NY 11103