Meet the Artist, Chef and Nature-Lover Yuki Sueyoshi!
The LIVELY HOTELS is home to many multitalented staff members, including the head chef Yuki Sueyoshi at ESTINATE HOTEL NAHA, who has a passion not just for cooking, but for abstract art, DIY, plants, fish, coffee and more. Here is a Q&A with the Renaissance Man about how he began his journey into the culinary world, what he thinks of ESTINATE HOTEL NAHA and his big plans for the future.
Q: Hello Yuki-san. Thank you for taking the time to chat today! My first question is when did you start working at ESTINATE HOTEL?
Thank you for having me. I started at ESTINATE HOTEL as a part-time kitchen staff member seven years ago and then became a full-time staff member last year.
Q: Seven years is quite a long time! What initially drew you to this hotel?
I really like the friendly staff who are creative and into art and music. I also like the guests who live a free lifestyle and know how to enjoy their time without feeling stressed. Japanese people who travel usually have a strict schedule but the ones who stay at this hotel are more relaxed and figure out their plans as they go. That was my first impression of the guests and I appreciate that kind of lifestyle.
Q: During your seven years working here, what changes have you seen?
There are a lot of reasons things have changed, but mainly COVID-19. Before COVID-19, there were lots of big groups, but now not so many so the style of service has sort of changed. It used to be too busy to build close relationships with the guests, but now it’s much easier to chat and build a personal relationship with the guests. Of course, the menu has also changed from Italian to Mexican food.
Q: How did you end up working here?
I was born in Yokohama, but my parents are from Okinawa. They moved to Yokohama so my dad could work in a washoku restaurant. I moved back to Okinawa for elementary, middle and high school, then after I graduated I moved to Tokyo to work at a kissaten.
Q: Wow, how did you end up in Tokyo?
I worked a part-time job in a coffee shop in Okinawa and the owner of the shop knew my boss at the kissaten in Tokyo so I ended up moving there.
Q: Why did you decide to move to Tokyo?
Okinawa is small island with few restaurants, shops and people but Tokyo is a big city with many types of jobs and different types of people. I thought that if I went to Tokyo I would be meet many kinds of people and gain a bigger world view.
Q: That makes sense. Back to talking about ESTINATE’s restaurant, what do you enjoy the most about working here?
While I enjoy the events with local artists and musicians, my favorite thing above all is communication with the guests and meeting new people. I love when they ask us for advice on things to do since I can give them my opinions on my favorite sights and experiences in the area.
Q: That’s great! When did you first get into cooking?
I have loved cooking since I was young. First I worked at a kissaten, then at a ramen shop, then a hamburger restaurant. Then I came back to Okinawa and worked at an izakaya. I experiemented with recipes at home that I found online. I would try a new recipe, make some mistakes, re-make it and improve every time.
Q: Amazing. The current menu is Ryuku-Mexican fusion food. How did you learn about Mexican food?
I actually didn’t know anything about Mexican food. I used books and went to Tokyo on business trips to Mexican restaurants, where I ate a lot of food and experienced what was cool about those restaurants. I have never been to Mexico, but I have always liked Mexican food.
Q: That’s quite impressive. What food are you specialized in making?
That’s a really difficult question. I guess I’m good at cooking fish, but more than that, I can make whatever people request. If you say you want pasta, then I can make that or if you want seafood, I can make that as well. I haven’t worked for 10 years at an Italian restaurant or washoku restaurant. I make what people want to eat.
Q: What do you like about ESTINATE HOTEL?
ESTINATE HOTEL is jibunrashii, so it is focused on the unique skills of every individual and it is easy to be yourself. There is no pressure to be the role that you’re working. Before I joined ESTINATE’s restaurant as chef, I never had to wonder, do I have to be a stereotypical chef or can I still be myself? I can be myself while still being a chef. Other hotels have their own style and you have to follow that. Of course those hotels have their own brand and they are still good but ESTINATE HOTEL doesn’t put any pressure on me to follow the brand or be the typical chef. Staff work hard to support the brand at other hotels but here everyone is able to make use of their individual talents. If you join the staff, then the staff will try to find work that fits your skills. That’s why because I said I can draw, I drew the art on the chalkboards in the lobby. The last head chef could sing, so he would sing while cooking.
Q: How is ESTINATE HOTEL different from other LIVELY HOTELS?
Well, that’s a difficult question because I have only been to THE LIVELY TOKYO AZABUJUBAN, but from my impression, I think ESTINATE HOTEL forms very close relationships with guests moreso than other LIVELY HOTELS. THE LIVELY TOKYO AZABUJUBAN felt like a hotel with the typical staff and guest relationship and ESTINATE HOTEL feels like a hotel but it also feels like we’re all friends here. The staff feels like a family and we communicate with the guests like they are our friends, while being professional still of course. At other hotels the front desk is separated from the kitchen, but here you see everyone’s face all the time because they are connected. We don’t just communicate through email, but we talk face-to-face everyday.
Q: What are your other interests outside of cooking?
Of course, since nursery school I have liked drawing. I also like animals, especially insects and I really like fish. When I was little I even made an illustrated field guide about fish with drawings and facts. I like plants too. My house is like a jungle. My wife isn’t interested in plants, but lately she has become curious so I have been making a field guide for her with drawings and facts about different plants.
I also dive and catch my own fish using a speargun. You can’t eat lots of fish if you catch them with a net because they are too small, but since I dive myself I can catch fish that I know are big enough to eat. I catch them myself and eat them at home so it’s better for the environment.
I also like farming. Before I became a full-time staff member, I worked at a farm with cucumber, bell peppers, papaya, mango, etc. Sometimes I contact the farmers for banana leaves to use as decoration leaves at the restaurant or for ingredients for my own home cooking.
Q: Wow you have so many interests! What are your future goals?
I would love to open my own shop with lots of green. Maybe a cafe. I just has to incorporate everything I like. I want to cook my own food, decorate the shop with my own art and build the structure from scratch since I also like DIY. I’m 39 now and would love to open it in my mid-40s in Itoman in southern Okinawa. I’m currently living there. The sea is beautiful and it’s a really amazing place.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
My life motto is always be in search of something new. I’m always looking to explore a new interest. If I stop, I will clash with my own desire to constantly grow and learn. I don’t want to stop. I want to keep improving as a person.