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Chef Gene Kato

Gene Kato, an innovator of Japanese cuisine in the U.S. introduced his very own chef driven concept, Sumi Robata Bar, in Chicago in January 2013. It was the ultimate culmination of his culinary experience and years of meticulous preparation. Kato was the recipient of the 2017 Jean Banchet Award of Culinary Excellence as Chicago’s Best Neighborhood Restaurant. And nomiated as well  by theJean Banchet Award of Culinary Excellence as Chef of Year.  Chef Kato was recognized by James Beard as a semi finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2017.

With Sumi, Kato brought to Chicago the traditional takumi, or artisan, experience of robata grilling using sumi, a distinct Japanese white charcoal. Kato knew Chicago was the perfect locale for his first restaurant and for any future restaurant endeavor, as he has been living and working in the city since 2002. “I really enjoy the Chicago restaurant culture and its customers,” he says. “People here have that great hospitality you find in the South, but with a big-city feel. There is so much opportunity to bring new concepts to the table.”

Prior to opening Sumi, Kato’s career path had already positioned him as an innovator of Japanese cuisine on a national scale. In addition to a tenure at Ohba, he dedicated nine years to working as executive chef and partner of Japonais, launching the modern Japanese restaurant in Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas. Coupled with his experience of growing up in a Japanese household in Charlotte, NC, in which he learned to cook the foods so integral to his heritage and culture, Kato is devoted to elevating Japanese cuisine yet remains respectfully authentic to tradition. “The most important tenets of Japanese cooking are overall quality and technique,” he explains. “That’s the thing with Japanese food: It’s composed of basic ingredients, so each detail must be perfect.”

Kato has been featured in numerous national and international publications for his creative signature dishes such as “The Hot Rock.” He also regularly participates in culinary events and was part of a star-studded lineup of chefs—including his peer, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto—at the 2007 Culinary R&D Conference. Kato exhibited his talent and captivated an audience of corporate chefs and research and development executives with his vision for the future of Japanese cuisine in the United States. Under Kato’s cerebral helm, Sumi has received great acclaim from critics and diners alike, with accolades including “Best New Restaurant” from Chicago magazine, “Best of Chicago” from Chicago Reader, and a “Critic’s Pick” from Time Out Chicago. And included in the best tour guide book of Japan.

He is a loving father to his son. In his spare time, he enjoys delving into other great ethnic cuisines at restaurants throughout his adopted city.


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