Lee ‘Cubby’ Nakamura, Tokyo Fish Market


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Mmmm…..delicous monkfish. With a face like that, how could you not pine for its entrails???

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of spending some time with local fish-master, family man, and all around likable Lee “Cubby” Nakamura from Berkeley’s amazing Tokyo Fish Market. Warm and well-spoken, Nakamura gave me the inside scoop on the industry. In the 25 years he has been in business he’s seen the seafood world undergo a myriad of changes . Starting out his culinary experience at the revered Berkeley Bowl, he moved over to Tokyo Fish Market in 1990. He eventually came on as a partner alongside Larry Fuji whose family founded the institution 46 years prior. The following details my conversation with Nakamura-san on all things pescedarian .

Do you have any thoughts in regards to sustainability you would like to reflect upon? The days of the individual fisherman are long gone. The fisherman can no longer make their boat mortgages of 300K or more in the current state of over-fished waters. Even the relatively pristine waters of Alaska and Canada are being threatened with plans for oil pipelines looming. Of course the contractors, developers and our own government will assure they are fail-proof. The fact is that accidents can and do happen as we’ve all witnessed time and again. No project is without danger.

So how about the mercury controversy? The importance of being aware of the safety of our food has been made evident time and again. To set the record straight, the highest levels of mercury have consistently been found in larger fish such as tuna, swordfish, and bass.

What do you see as the future of the seafood industry? The future of the fish industry lies in fish farming. Given the dwindling fish supply, it is the only true answer. As demand has increased I’ve seen prices soar higher every year. Of course the farming has it’s own set of issues and has received criticism due to hormone usage, questionable feeding practices and higher concentrations than seen in nature used by some less scrupulous farmers. With all food, one should research the supplier.

FYI: Salmon, catfish, tilapia, cod, carp, and trout are the most farmed fish on the market. Some of the more well known states for fish farming include Idaho (Trout), Washington (shellfish and crabs), Oregon (Salmon and shellfish), and California (striped sea bass

What are some things the average big-nose is afraid to try? Well, a lot of people are afraid of the Uni (Sea Urchin) mostly due to the texture, Tazukuri is also hugely popular in Japanese culture which you don’t see commonly consumed in America (anchovies in sugar, sake and soy sauce), there’s the tako (mini-octopus), and of course natto, which is very healthy (sticky/stringy fermented soybean with a strong smell and flavor). I was really surprised when the whole monkfish liver thing caught on..

Where does most of your (our) fish come from? Most of the market’s fish supply comes from Hawaii although local shellfish and crabs and salmon can also be obtained

What is your favorite fish right now? I’m reluctant to give it away but, the Scottish Salmon “Loch Duart” is just phenomenal

Lee’s top tips for selecting excellent fish

#1 Trust your fishmonger. Finding a quality purveyor and building a relationship is crucial.

#2 Flexibility. Many people show up clutching recipe cards looking for a specific fish. Remember, fresh is always best. Seasons change and with it quality.

#3 Be Adventurous. Lee cannot stress enough the importance of coming to your local shop with and open-mind. Be willing to try new things, you won’t be disappointed.

Local cutie serves it up at the market

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