By matthew kornberg

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Omakase Élevé

Chef Wei Chen, formerly a competitive cyclist and executive chef at a world renowned Omakase sushi bar, sits down over a Corsa to talk about his past lives and what’s still to come on his evolving creative journey elevating Omakese. 


Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today? 

I started cooking in New York at 17 and am now 30. I recently left the executive chef position at Nakazawa Omakase sushi bar – the former chief apprentice to Jiro from the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’ve always been in the Japanese cuisine world, primarily specializing in sushi. When I initially started my cooking career, I was also trying to become a professional cyclist, racing in Belgium and other parts of Europe. However, after a pretty severe knife injury in the kitchen that prohibited me from using my hand to race, I decided to go full steam ahead in the kitchen. It was kind of forced but also serendipitous in a way. Aside from the added longevity as compared to racing, I really love producing a product that makes people generally happy. 

Sushi is one of those cuisines where you as a chef are sitting in front of the guest and you see an instant reaction. Gauging that is something that is very satisfying for me. It’s a unique instant gratification versus being a chef in a kitchen where you rarely see the guests reaction once you send out the food. For me that’s something I hold a lot of pride in. Today, I don’t think that as a chef, I should have a singular discipline that defines who I am. As a guest facing chef, I feel the need to have layers to my persona in order to add to the experience with the guest. It’s like, “What do you like? Do you like fashion, do you like art, do you like music, do you like cycling?” And I like all of those things. Though I respect it, I have never been a fan of the intensity and often intimidating experiences found at much of the traditional Japanese cuisine. To me it’s about making the guests feel comfortable and happy with the experience.

What were some defining moments on your creative path? 

From a young age, I've always been curious and artistic. I would take apart and rebuild RC cars, I was always into art, and playing instruments like piano and violin. I’ve always had an artistic mindset. The food came in when I went to work at my uncle’s restaurant as a way to stay out of trouble and earn some pocket change. It’s kind of what drew me in because I always looked up to him and respected him. But what truly changed everything was when I did a semester abroad to Italy in college and that’s when I absolutely feel in love with food. I was like, “wow – this is pasta!?” That’s where I learned that no matter how simple a dish, if executed properly, it can change your life.

What do you enjoy about movement and being active?

In addition to cycling, I run, I go to the gym, I ski. For me, all these activities are an outlet for me to kind of zone out. It’s really just the complete opposite of what I do in the restaurant world where I have to be fully engaged at all times. Danny Myers had this great metaphor about the restaurant industry, he said that while we often look like swans above the surface, below the water we are kicking and paddling frantically. Though we may all seem calm and collected on the surface, it can be frantic work that all has to come together to deliver the proper experience to the guest. The best way to bring myself back down is by doing these kinds of things, like cycling. When I opened Nakazawa in Aspen, I even picked up skiing when I was unable to ride for this same reason. Nothing else matters when it’s just you and a beautiful mountain. For me the, the physical aspect is really all secondary to the mental benefits.


What creative goals are you working towards?

This new chapter of my life. Nakazawa is very classic and traditional sushi, and my goal now is to take Japanese ingredients and elevate them. I want to do essentially the opposite of what many French chefs have done in recent years. If you go to many fine French restaurants these days, they are incorporating a lot of Japanese ingredients, Japanese fish, and sashimi dishes instead of some of the heavy butter, salt and sauce that you are used to seeing. They have been referencing the Japanese simplicity and been featuring only the essentials like fish, oil, salt and pepper. What I’m trying to do is a little bit of the reverse. I want to utilize Japanese ingredients and what I know about Japanese ingredients and use French technique to manipulate traditional Japanese dishes and bring more flavor out of them.

I am now working with a new hospitality group out of Miami to create something that is new and is more my own. Also, I will be able to create a whole different experience by partnering with a hospitality group operated by “masters of people,” with valuable relationships, people skills and unparalleled understanding of how to curate a vibe. Combining our skills in both respective worlds, we will be opening a supper club which will offer a restaurant with a lounge and club. Essentially a place where guests can create friendships and connections. The goal is to utilize all the respective partners’ unique talents to the fullest extent to create a place where you can not only have an incredible meal but then continue that experience directly into a more social setting.

Any words for a younger version of yourself just starting on the creative journey?

I think about this pretty often. There’s nothing I would really say to myself because if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I think that every single moment that has happened to me, has happened for a reason. Whether I slacked off for a little bit, I had to slack off in order to fall on my ass and in order to realize, “hey, don’t do that again because this is what happens.” I wouldn’t say to myself, “put your head down and work harder,” because I worked hard as fuck, and when I did sometimes fall on my ass, that’s how I learned to get back up. I don’t think there’s one single moment I could’ve changed to make it a better situation. I think it was the best situation that I was given, and I just made the right decisions in order to amplify those moments. I haven’t had time off like this in a very long time and I recently took a moment to reflect and was very humbled when I thought to myself that there really is nothing that I regret.


IG: @weiiiiiup

Dear Rec-Creative,

If you’re not directly familiar with the story of Sisyphus, I’m pretty sure you are familiar with the image above or at least the general concept. Essentially, it’s a story from Greek mythology about the king of Ephyra who happened to be a pretty big wise guy. Ultimately, Zeus ended up punishing him for cheating death twice by forcing him to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity. As an entrepreneur and a creative, this story, and my resonance with this plight, comes to mind quite often. But a funny thing happened to me the other day while I was on my bike climbing up Latigo Canyon on a truly spectacular day. I thought to myself, if I had to slug up this hill only to come right back down to the bottom every day for the rest of eternity, I would be pretty damn happy. So how is it that some efforts feel like pure evil that could only come from the depths of hell, while in other instances, the same effort can feel like heaven on earth? A gentleman by the name of Dan Ariely explored a concept that he called “The Sisyphean Condition” in his book, The Upside of Irrationality. After conducting several rounds of experiments, he determined that when two groups of people were presented the same task, one of the groups was able to be far more productive when they were acknowledged for their work and when they felt that said work was actually meaningful. Taken in conjunction with my experience, I basically boil these key drivers down to purpose, perspective, persistence and the people around you. So next time we find ourselves in a rut, challenge yourself to step back and ask: Have I been intentional about why I am doing this and what it means to me and others? Have I had a positive and optimistic outlook about this task coming into it? Am I showing up with sufficient and consistent effort needed? And finally, am I opening up and being vulnerable enough to share this plight with my community to gather feedback and seek support where needed? It’s usually pretty hard to nail all four of these but making an effort to improve your weakest two or three should really help to prop you up enough to finally make it up and over that damn hill. 



Founder and CEO

Corsa Co.

Wide n' Tight: We've always been big fans of Altra for their wide toe boxes and zero drop soles, but were super stoked to try out these new trail shoes that feature everybodys favorite cycling shoe tech, BOA adjustable dial lacing systems.

Tom Fjord: Originally designed for the fjords of Norway, these rad shorts are appropriately short but don't be fooled by the fashion, they are also tough as nails.

Less is More: In an age where we can feel constant pressure to do more, want more, and be more, sometimes the best way to take back control is to actually let go. 

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