Chef Andy Matsuda Talks Sushi, His Superstar Students and How to Overcome Struggle
Written By: Charlotte Farrell
Photographed By: Ryan Hensley
A teacher, at their core, is someone who finds joy in spreading knowledge and motivating their subjects. The goal is to guide the student on the path to realizing their dreams. Chef Andy Matsuda is an incredible teacher with a history and background that assures those who are taken under his wing are being taught by a true master. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as Matsuda’s credibility goes far beyond his impressive resumé.
Just outside of Kobe, Japan, Andy Matsuda began his culinary career at the tender age of nine. From his family’s small restaurant, he went on to learn the ins and outs of the business, being exposed to the harsh realities of long hours, buckets of sweat and tired hands. “I started serving [my dishes] to my parents and friends,” he said. “I loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces.” By age 23, he had apprenticed at Genpachi, one of the most famous restaurants in Osaka, and also became a member of the prestigious sushi chef organization called ‘Yosei-kai.’ After a quick stint back home to help grow his family’s business, Matsuda took a leap. A 5,721 mile leap across the globe to pursue a career in Los Angeles.
The competition in LA is fierce in just about every line of work, but Matsuda wasn’t fazed. He arrived in 1981 and hit the ground running. From restaurants to hotels, he worked his way up the ladder and gained notoriety wherever he went. But success came at a great cost. “I crashed myself,” he said. The devastating news of a cancer diagnosis knocked Matsuda from his well-earned pedestal. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to pay the bills. I couldn’t do anything. I was so scared to spend money because I had no income. I [had] to take care of the family, I [had] to take care of the bills.” While doing chemotherapy, Matsuda took up part-time jobs until the necessity of another surgery, once again, took him by surprise. For a total of four years, he fought the disease valiantly. This kind, hard-working man was dealt a card each and every human being fears the most when it comes to their health. The treatments wore him down, leaving him unable to work the grueling yet rewarding hours he had before.
As the bills got worse and the pressure increased, Matsuda saw a pattern—more like a need. Sushi was starting to become the new trendy food in town. “More American people wanted sushi, sushi, sushi! [There wasn’t] enough Japanese people. We can’t import people from Japan, so [I] needed to teach within. I had no job, no money…[opening the school] was the only thing I could do,” he said.
Little by little, he started teaching in 2002. In a 600-square-foot room in a community center in Little Tokyo, he gave his time and energy to his students. “Sometimes [we had] no class and no people. It wasn’t easy, but step by step I tried to promote myself and build my school.” He would commute two hours round trip and faced refrigerator breakdowns, but it didn’t matter. He was back in his happy place.
Fast forward to 2011, and the school was moved to a 4,000 square foot space in Torrance. As of 2017, the school boasts 1,500 graduates who moved on to work for and open restaurants in over 100 countries. Some of his star pupils include David Bouhadana in New York and Engin Onural in Palm Desert (crowned as one of the top 100 sushi chefs in the USA in 2016), just to name a few. “My job used to be making sushi. Now I make students.” When it comes to his teaching style, he emphasizes that “each individual has different feelings, different cultures, different situations. Teaching is not only about being a chef. You must understand the person’s needs, then you can teach them. It takes time. I have to teach them as an individual.”
For chefs on the horizon of a culinary career, he advises them to “keep the dream strong. It’s a lot of work. Challenge yourself and never, never, never give up until your dream comes true.”
He thrives doing what he loves, and wants people who are afraid of sushi to “discover themselves” by starting out small. “A California roll or cucumber roll, with a little soy sauce,” he suggests. “We are not using heavy cream, butter, eggs and those kind of things. We use more healthy vegetables, rice, seaweed—it’s good for you!”
When asked what he would be if he wasn’t a sushi chef and teacher, Matsuda paused, then laughed. “I don’t know, maybe I’d be a fish!” Just keep swimming, Chef!
Star Power: Matsuda has done private lessons for Guy Fieri, Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread Farms and Eddie Huang of “VICELAND.”
The Real Deal: Matsuda has been featured in “EATER,” “Insider Food,” KTLA news and more!
Home Comforts: Chef Matsuda’s favorite place to enjoy a meal is at home.
Local Vacay: His favorite spot to spend time with the fam is at the Terranea Resort in Ranchos Palos Verdes. He loves the ocean views, gorgeous weather and the quiet atmosphere. Plus, he has some friends in the kitchen!
Must Have: The food Matsuda can’t live without? Sardines! He loves the high Omega factor, the fresh flavor, low cost and versatility.
Sushi Chef Institute
1123 Van Ness Ave
Torrance, CA 90501
Chef Andy Matsuda Took a Bad Situation and Turned it Into a Famous Sushi School