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  WINDY CITY TIMES

PASSAGES Yoshi Katsumura
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-08-04

This article shared 5145 times since Tue Aug 4, 2015
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Yoshi Katsumura—the legendary and longtime chef-proprietor of Yoshi's Cafe, located in the heart of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood—passed away Aug. 2 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a lengthy battle with liver cancer. He was 65.

"He was an amazing chef. I've been going to Yoshi's for 20 years and can honestly say that I never had a bad meal," said Stu Zirin, the co-owner of multiple businesses along North Halsted Street in Lake View. "He truly was a national treasure whose legacy will continue.

"He was one of the best chefs I've ever met."

Born in Japan, Katsumura apprenticed with Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai in Tokyo at age 20.

He moved to Chicago in 1973, and had a stint working at noted five-star restaurant Le Francais in suburban Wheeling, where he worked alongside famed chef Jean Banchet.

Katsumura was a chef and partner at now-closed Jimmy's Place, a premiere French fusion restaurant in Chicago.

He opened Yoshi's Cafe in 1982, and it has attracted celebrities galore and been featured by the Food Network and named one of "America's Top Tables" by Gourmet. Yoshi's also has been honored as one of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, has received the AAA Four Diamond and Zagat awards, among many others.

"His many kindnesses and support of many good things in many communities will be missed," said state Rep. Greg Harris.

"We're all pretty sad here; he was a fixture on the street," said Mickey Hornick, owner of Chicago Diner, located two blocks away along North Halsted Street. "He was a tough, tough guy, but also a sweet, loving guy who was very loyal and caring—and I'm proud to call him a friend."

Katsumura attended the first-ever Northalsted Market Days.

"He was really great to his friends and a sharp businessman," Hornick said.

"Every time you met Yoshi, he was kind a polite, a true gentleman," said Paul Cannella, who owns multiple businesses in Lake View. "The fact that he's run Yoshi's since 1982 is a huge testament to him, to his ability to run a business, and to his great food.

"He was a true legend, not just locally but nationally and internationally."

Art Johnston, the co-owner of Sidetrack, tagged Katsumura as "immensely talented, dedicated, and kind."

"As the gay neighborhood developed around him, Yoshi become an avid, generous supporter of our community's aspirations and growth. We mourn the loss of our dear friend," Johnston said.

Ald. Tom Tunney said, "You always leave a light on for your family, and that's exactly how Yoshi treated his staff and everyone who came into Yoshi's Cafe over the last 33 years—like family."

When it opened, Yoshi's was about half the size it is now, Tunney said, and catered to the Japanese business person and conventioneer. "Fusing together his studies and cultural background, Yoshi created a sophisticated French-Asian restaurant that put Lakeview on the map as a destination for fine dining," Tunney said.

"Nobuko greeted guests as they came into the restaurant, while Yoshi regularly visited tables to chat with regulars and newcomers alike. Yoshi was silent, strong, and disciplined with a keen and watchful eye on the restaurant he and his wife raised two children in and above—yes, the family lived above the restaurant. And while they never encouraged their son and daughter to follow in their footsteps, both children did end up pursuing careers in the restaurant business.

"In addition to being a fixture in both Lakeview and the Chicago culinary community, Yoshi was a member of the Illinois Restaurant Association and the recipient of many awards including America's Outstanding Chefs by the Grand Master Chefs of America and a Distinguished Restaurants of North America title. Let's help the family keep the light on for Yoshi's as he did so many nights for us."

Zirin, who said Katsumura was "a big inspiration to me," invited the renowned chef to Dive Bar weeks before it opened this past January—just for Katsumura's suggestions and advice.

"No other chef that I know has a better taste level than [what] I know he has," Zirin said.

Katsumura suggested Dive Bar scale down on the amount of items on the menu, offer more fresh fish, and more, Zirin said.

"Yoshi was one of the most talented people I have ever meet, so caring and giving," Zirin said.

Katsumura and his wife, Nobuko, were regulars at their Lake View restaurant.

"He was always there and always talked to the [customers] when it slowed down [in the kitchen]," Zirin said. "I have never seen more dedication to a skill and a restaurant than him. Sure, you can catch me at Dive Bar or mEAT, [the restaurants that I co-own], but he was always at Yoshi's."

Zirin said one of his fondest Katsumura-cooked meals was actually served at Katsumura's home in South Beach. "I was invited to be invited [to his home] and of course it was an amazing meal," Zirin said.

Zirin said that Katsumura "brought a sense that [the gay community was] something special since we had," Katsumura cooking in the neighborhood. "He really cared about the [gay] community and was involved in it."

Katsumura was a board member of the Northalsted Business Alliance.

A memorial service will be held at 6 pm on Aug. 17 at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee St.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in the name of Yoshi Katsumura to: Pediatric Services at Swedish Hospital, 5145 N. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60625.

To donate, email Foundation@swedishcovenant.org or call 773-293-5121.

He is survived by his wife, Nobuko; a daughter, Mari; a son, Ken; a brother in Japan, Kazuhiro Katsumura; and a grandson, Hiro.


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