Welcome to Chef Talks, a series in which our staff talks to the men and women who create, cook, and deliver some of the best food in the C-U and surrounding areas. This week we're talking with Richard Mechelke, Sous Chef at Sakanaya . Read on to meet him, his restaurant and see some delicious photos of what you can expect from this Campustown sushi bar.
Smile Politely: What is your name, restaurant, and position?
Richard Mechelke: My name is Richard Mechelke, Sous Chef at Sakanaya .
SP: Tell us a little about yourself: where are you from, and how and why did you become a chef?
Mechelke: Ever since I was in high school, all my part time jobs involved me being in the kitchen. I fell into sushi after high school because it gave me a chance to be more creative and artistic when plating and creating new items. I have always loved to work with my hands. Being from Chicago, there was a lot of opportunity to learn from different sushi chefs, and really hone my skill as a sushi chef.
SP: How would you describe your (or your restaurant's) style?
Mechelke: I would say Sakanaya is a modern fusion sushi restaurant. We are a Japanese restaurant, but a lot of our dishes have Korean influences. And when compared to other sushi restaurants, prices are reasonable, service is fast, and the interior is modern. I think our restaurant appeals to every type of customer in the campaign area. Whether you want a quick roll for lunch or a nice dinner for two, we are a perfect setting for each occasion.
SP: Do you source many of your ingredients from local Illinois farms?
Mechelke: We do not source our ingredients from local farms. I think our restaurant is special because we set the standards high for freshness and quality of our sushi, while not digging too deep into our customers pocket, You will not find chicken like ours anywhere else and each ramen is unique and delicious.
SP: What is your signature dish?
Mechelke: My signature dish would have to be my tuna tataki marinated in garlic soy, seasoned with frurekake (Japanese seasoning) and topped with gauc and baby sprouts.
SP: What is your favorite knife? What type do you use?
Mechelke: My favorite knife to use in the kitchen is a kiritsuke. It is an uncommon one side beveled knife Japanese knife. It is great for cutting fish, and also maki rolls, and vegetables. A typical sushi knife will only have one beveled, because, in order to maintain temperature and freshness, while slicing the fish, we want the piece to fall away from the knife so to minimize physical contact with the fish.
SP: What is your favorite non-knife kitchen tool?
Mechelke: My favorite, non-knife kitchen tool would have to be my "Makisoo" it is a bamboo mat that is used to create the shape of the roll.
SP: What is your usual after-work drink?
Mechelke: My favorite after work drink? I was never a big drinker, but I know why one would ask this question. There is a huge drinking culture with restaurant industry employees because of the long hours. But my favorite drink would have to be a Japanese beer called Sapporo.
SP: What do you like to do on your days off?
Mechelke: Because I don't have many days off and much time to do things throughout a work day, I typically spend my day off running errands. But, playing on my guitar and running with my dog always find their way into my schedule.
Sakayana is located at 403 E. Green Street, Champaign and is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m-1 a.m. and Sundays 5-10 p.m.
All photos by local photographer, Veronica Mullen. Check out more of her work at VeronicMullen.com