We sat down with Regional Corporate Sushi Chef John Um to chat about his epic LOVE tuna sashimi platter, based on The Palazzo’s iconic LOVE art installation in Las Vegas.
How did the world of sushi and art come together for you?
The “Art of Sushi” had become in the skill of making a delectable piece of work that attract people to want more of chef’s creations. It is not too long ago when people started to understand that flavor depends on taste, odor, touch and “vision.” My approach to visual art in sushi was to maximize that “vision” part of perceiving food flavors when my dish was created.
What was it like to work on such an iconic Vegas sculpture?
Collaborating with our Sands Corp. partners to replicate the LOVE sign was really great. There were so much more meaning in this collaboration. The actual designer of this LOVE sign, Laura Kimpton, said about her sculpture, “The bird stamps in the letters (LOVE) represent being able to follow your dreams, which is the message that I hope will inspire people as they interact with the piece. Las Vegas is the city where people pursue their dreams, and this sculpture will act as a touchstone for this pursuit”. Before I decided to do collaboration with this art piece, her message was already inspiration to start with, and also knowing that this LOVE sign art piece is located at the Waterfall Atrium (the heart of Palazzo Hotel & Casino) was something that I wanted to express my dish to express much more than just “a dish”
Where did the idea of using tuna as a “template” came from?
First of all, I wanted to create a dish that has more meanings than just a “LOVE” sign in it – just like the idea from actual designer of this LOVE sign with birds in them. As being a sushi chef, I wanted this sashimi dish to represent the Japanese flag. If you look carefully, the table covered with white tablecloth and having red tuna in the center represents the Japanese flag. From that over all design to small details like “tuna eye being covered with gold to represent Las Vegas itself” and “edible flowers & greens to represent Waterfall Atrium garden of Palazzo Hotel & Casino.
How did it taste like? Did anyone eat the dish after?
Freshest tuna that just flew in and butchered in the same morning, and with the your perceiving food flavors from the vision you saw – I will leave it up to you to imagine the “what it tasted like”. Dish was gone between staff members from Venetian, Palazzo, and ourselves. I might have eaten the most to be honest – ha,ha!
Your sushi pieces are beautiful, in what ways do you think you’re pushing/testing the boundaries – how do you constantly outdo yourself?
Breaking the rules, understanding balance, finding simplicity out of complexity, and most importantly: making dishes the way I want to enjoy as a guest.
The piece is a celebration of art and sushi what do you want people to take away from it? Is there a message behind it?
I would like people to take the message of “LOVE” itself. If anyone got to see all the meaningful ideas behind it, that’s great; however, as you really saw the letters of LOVE, love is the answer to everything at the end. Lastly, LOVE of sushi (could be sashimi like my art piece) is the answer to your next meal. 😉
Follow Chef John Um’s culinary journey @chefjohn on Instagram.