Interview: David Gelb Dreams of L.A. Sushi

Photo: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

If you've ever been kicked out of a sushi restaurant for trying to order a Sexy Late Night Roll, then you know how it is: there's a wide disparity in between sushi purists and the casual snacker. Nowhere is it more apparent than in Los Angeles, with the availability of every level of sushi -- from the fast food chains to the ultra-exclusive (and expensive) temple to the cuisine.

In the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." director David Gelb, a USC-alum, provides an intimate look into the world of master sushi-chef Jiro Ono, and the rag-tag crew of experts that work to create a level of cuisine that can only be described as art. As preparation for the film, Gelb created a short film (see above) about L.A.'s own master sushi-chef: Kazunori Nozawa, proprietor of the venerable but now sadly defunct Nozawa Restaurant in Studio City, and the SugarFISH chain of restaurants.

So he must know a little bit about sushi in L.A., and how it compares to the real thing in Japan. We asked him a few questions about the cultural differences that define sushi culture in L.A. and Japan. Here's what he had to say:


You produced a student film on sushi, and then a short film about Nozawa. And now "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." Can tell us a bit about this journey?

Do you have to be Japanese to become a master sushi-chef? Are there elements to the cuisine that can only be understood by the culture that created it?

Did the popularity of Nozawa's no-frills style have an influence in changing the perception of what sushi is in Los Angeles?

How would a revered sushi chef in L.A. like Nozawa rate in Japan? How would a restaurant like Jiro's do in L.A.?

Is there an advantage or disadvantage to operating a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles? Can a sushi restaurant in L.A. operate on the same level as Jiro's?

As a non-Japanese person, will you ever be trusted as sushi expert? Can Angelenos truly understand the essence of sushi without leaving the city?