Executive Chef/Partner Mark Garcia is bringing his exclusive approach to omakase from Gaijin to Kissaki. A Chicago-native, Garcia began a decade long mentorship with Chef Kaze Chan of Sushi-san, who has a 30-year history of opening innovative and wildly successful sushi restaurants (Heat, Mirai Sushi, Kaze Sushi, Macku Sushi), while working at Sushi Samba in 2003. Chef Mark has worked in a variety of service positions and in numerous restaurant/hotel kitchens (Waldorf Astoria, The Wit & J.W. Marriott Chicago) throughout his nearly two decades in the hospitality industry. His broad experience lends him an understanding of the kitchen/server/staff relationship and the dynamics that go into running a successful restaurant. In 2014, Chef Mark was able to rejoin Chef Kaze and Michelin-starred chef Jeff Ramsey to collaborate and subsequently develop the menu and design for the sushi bar in Momotaro. This multi-dimensional sushi, izakaya, and bar spot quickly became one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants and remains open today.
In October 2016, Chef Mark debuted his modern omakase at Gaijin in Astoria Queens. The fitting name “Gaijin” literally translates to “outsider” in Japanese, as Mark considers himself an outsider whose deep appreciation of the culture and craft ultimately led him to open the Astoria restaurant. The term “outsider” is also a nod to Chef Mark’s experience overcoming external doubts about his place in the sushi world. Rather than giving in to the doubts and spite, Chef Mark embraced his role as an outsider and used the doubt as motivation to get him to where he is today. Now, Mark has assembled a team to unveil Kissaki on Bowery, where he presides over an elegant, 27-seat counter with 16 seats reserved for the omakase menu and the remaining 11 seats for cocktails. Here, Mark and his team have created a unique and intimate dining experience that honors the Japanese tradition and the art of the knife. Like craftsmen and artists with a practiced hand, Kissaki delivers precise dishes that tell a story.
Evan Zagha began professionally cooking at the age of 14. Coming to NYC, Evan trained in the kitchens of well-respected chefs such as Michael White, Shaun Hergatt, and Marc Forgione. Evan fell in love with the [kaiseki experience] while working with chef Yamada Isao at Brushstroke, chef Bouley’s famed collaborative effort with Japan’s Tsuji Culinary Institute. These experiences inspired Evan to travel the world for a year to explore the cuisines and cultures of the world. He took his culinary career to the next level by staging at Alinea, serving as the Sous Chef for the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, and working at Pure South Dining in Melbourne, Australia. While traveling, he spent some time in Japan learning more about the culture and expanding his knowledge about the cuisine.
Now, as the co-executive chef of Kissaki, Evan is offering four rotating kaiseki preparations that will complement Kissaki’s unique omakase menu. Evan focuses on building relationships with local farmers and uses seasonal and sustainable vegetables to inspire his menu. His desire to implement a zero-waste program will include preparations such as “the Whole Squash Soup” that will utilize a kabocha squash from skin to seed. Zagha has developed these passions throughout the past few years and hopes to continue to expand his knowledge and interests at Kissaki.
At 18-years-old, Andrea Martinez left Mexico City to visit Chicago for vacation and ended up staying. She loved the pace and people so much that the city became her new home. She was first introduced to culinary while working at a gastro-pub before meeting Chef Mark Garcia who offered her a job as a sushi assistant in 2015 at Momotaro, which is a multi-dimensional sushi spot that quickly became one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago and is still open today. While at Momotaro, Andrea assisted Chef Mark with making his garnishes for his nigiri and plating the final dish.
In 2016, she left with Mark to move to New York and open Gaijin in Astoria. Since this restaurant was smaller, she had more time to try new things. At Kissaki, she will continue to assist Chef Mark with preparing his nigiri for service. She hopes to continue to learn and grow and one day be a sushi chef heading a counter under her own creative direction.