John Um – Regional Corporate Sushi Chef
@ChefJohn on Instagram
“The key to the culinary experience is striking a balance: achieving an end result that is equal parts taste and presentation. In many ways, I consider this process an art. Oftentimes when I plate dishes, I draw inspiration from the aesthetics incorporated in painting.”
Regional Corporate Sushi Chef of SUSHISAMBA Las Vegas, Miami Beach and Coral Gables, John Um, has mastered the art of sushi, from his precise technique to his aesthetic presentation. Born and raised in South Korea, John developed an affinity for food at a young age, embarking on an international culinary journey that began in his hometown of Seoul.
First influenced by his grandmother’s occupation as a diver, John grew up experiencing seafood in its freshest form, acquiring a taste for aquatic life that would make most youngsters squirm, including sea urchin and abalone. His mother and aunt, respectively, a potter and a painter, fostered his eye for creativity, an aspect of his childhood that has inspired John’s current culinary approach at SUSHISAMBA, manifested in his artful presentations. John views each plate as a canvas, enhancing the experience for guests with conceptually plated ingredients – or as John says “edible art-work” – that highlight the beauty of color and texture characteristic of Japanese cuisine.
Moving to the United States at age sixteen, John ambitiously sought professional experience to broaden his understanding of, and approach to, sushi and Japanese cuisine. In 2000, he became a Sushi Sous Chef at Fuji Japanese Steak and Sushi House in Tennessee, embracing an opportunity to develop his skill set by learning teppanyaki – an experience that strengthened his ability to simultaneously cook for, and communicate with, guests. Shortly thereafter, John accepted an Executive Sushi Chef and Japanese Kitchen Chef position at Hanabi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Rosen, high-end establishments, where John oversaw and trained employees in customer relation management and food preparation procedures.
John moved to Nevada in 2009, accepting an opportunity to be an Executive Chef at The Sushi, where he assisted with the direction of the menu, specializing in sushi presentation and Japanese cuisine, while facilitating a seamless relationship between front and back of house operations. Following The Sushi, John became a Sushi Chef at Wazuzu in the esteemed Wynn & Encore hotels, bringing his creativity and knowledge of sauces to the kitchen of one of the hotel’s most popular restaurants.
In 2010, John joined the team as Executive Sushi Chef at SUSHISAMBA Las Vegas, an experience that has brought his journey full circle. His adventurous palate, artistic outlook and knowledge of Japanese cuisine shine in his ability to transform ingredients into memorable flavors. Annual trips to Japan and past travels to Brazil and Peru serve as inspiration for John’s ever-growing repertoire and refined technique. Showcasing his culinary creativity and desire for a challenge, John creates an original dish daily for the restaurant’s specials, never repeating an offering. His dishes have been lauded as true works of art by such esteemed culinary forces as The Art of Plating and Chef Talks.
In 2013, John was promoted to the role of Regional Corporate Sushi Chef, overseeing operations and menu development at Miami Beach and Coral Gables in addition to Las Vegas. He was integral to the opening of the restaurant’s first international location in London in the summer of 2012 as well as the opening of Coral Gables in 2013. At SUSHISAMBA, he utilizes all aspects of his informal and professional culinary education, from his innate ability to pair ingredients that result in bold flavors to his creative disposition, plating delicious and exquisite cuisine.
Joel Versola – Executive Chef
@Joel_Versola on Instagram
Executive Chef Joel Versola brings an unrivalled passion for cooking and a wealth of experience to SUSHISAMBA’s largest location in Las Vegas at The Shoppes at The Palazzo. His seamless fit with the restaurant’s unique cuisine is a product of years of dedication and teamwork. Born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, his interest in the culinary industry developed at an early age. Graduating with an Associate of Science Degree in Food Service and a Certificate of Achievement in the Culinary Arts at Kapiolani Community College, Versola balanced his formal education with practical experience, working as kitchen manager at Honolulu’s Okonomiyaki Chibo, a restaurant group that opened its first location in Osaka, Japan.
Ready for a new experience, he moved to Las Vegas, where he accepted a position at Shintaro, a Japanese restaurant in the Bellagio. The culinary concept at Shinatro required detailed attention to age-old Japanese preparation and presentation. Recognizing his zeal and hard-work, Nobu Las Vegas in the Hard Rock recruited Versola for a once in a lifetime opportunity to work under acclaimed chef and restaurateur, Nobu Matsuhisa. With Matsuhisa as his mentor, Versola became adept at Peruvian and Japanese cuisine, learning the importance of ingredient selection and the process of menu development along the way.
Welcoming the opportunity to put his skill set to use, Versola accepted the role of Executive Chef at Shintaro. Under his leadership, the restaurant earned one of the top rankings in 2004Zagat and the AAA Four Diamond award in 2005, among other notable accolades. Perhaps the most prestigious honor came when Versola was invited to represent Shintaro at the James Beard House in New York, where he prepared and presented a tasting menu.
Poised for his a more prestigious position, Versola revisited Nobu Las Vegas in 2007. During his time as Executive Chef, the location earned a Michelin Star for 2008 and 2009 in addition to receiving countless celebratory reviews in national and local publications. In 2012, Versola was promoted to Executive Chef at Nobu in Caesars Palace. The role was challenging, yet rewarding for Versola who was charged with the restaurant’s opening, menu planning, staff hiring and equipment ordering. When the restaurant officially opened in February 2013, Versola oversaw both restaurant and in-room dining. The location boasted the first ever teppanyaki in the United States under the culinary direction of Versola.
Since joining SUSHISAMBA’s team in 2013, Versola has mastered the brand’s signature Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine through his precise technique and bold culinary personality. Bringing his own creativity to the menu, he captures the spirited flavors of the brand in specials such as the Whole Maine Lobster with cilantro-truffle butter crust, seasonal vegetables and grilled lemon or the Crispy Yellowtail Snapper with roasted vegetables, sweet chili and miso butter.
Michael Outlaw – Executive Pastry Chef
Executive Pastry Chef Michael Outlaw is SUSHISAMBA Las Vegas’ pastry pioneer and confectionary creative. Formerly of Nobu and Joël Robuchon, Chef Michael brings a wealth of experience and ingenuity to the SUSHISAMBA pastry team.
Chef Michael’s passion for cooking started at the age of 12 as a high-energy contributor to family dinners. He complimented his at-home cooking with local cooking classes, well-worn cookbooks, recipe experimentation and Cooking Channel benders. It wasn’t long until Michael found himself at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Upon graduating from the CIA in 2006, he accepted a line cook position at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, spending countless hours learning pastry techniques, recipes and presentations and growing into the role of Pastry Chef. His next move was Nobu, in Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel, where he upheld Michelin-star standards as Pastry Chef, creating new desserts and training team members. Over 7 years, Chef Michael worked his way to the top of Nobu’s pastry team, ultimately overseeing the restaurant’s expansion to Caesars Palace as Executive Pastry Chef.
In 2014, Michael took on the role of Grand Pastry Sous Chef at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas – a 3-Michelin star rated restaurant. It was at Robuchon that Michael met his mentor, James Beard nominee Chef Salvatore Martone. Under Chef Martone’s direction, Michael adopted a ‘learning is limitless’ philosophy, mastering the art of plating and presentation and valuing teamwork and collaboration in the kitchen – practices he upholds today.
In early 2016, Michael joined the team at SUSHISAMBA. Inspired by the restaurant’s concept – the culture and cuisine of Japan, Brazil and Peru – Chef Michael’s creative juices began flowing immediately: his Soya Pasión is a light, yet rich soy ‘cloud’ that features a complementary set of ingredients, from the smooth center to the slight crunch of graham crumbs to the tart, refreshing mango passion sorbet touched by the sweetness of strawberry gelée. Another standout is his Peruvian Chocolate Ganache, which delivers a decadent combination of candied peanuts, Cusqueña caramel, peanut crema, chocolate crumb and roasted peanut ice cream.
Of his work with SUSHISAMBA locations beyond Las Vegas, Chef Michael says “I’m excited to collaborate with each team and deliver seasonally-inspired desserts executed with innovative methodologies.”
With Chef Michael at the helm, SUSHISAMBA will continue to push the creative boundaries with which the concept’s dessert offerings have long been synonymous.
Richard Woods – Head of Spirit & Cocktail Development
@The_CocktailGuy on Instagram and Twitter
“The foundations of any cocktail are to make something taste delicious. Once you have established the building blocks of flavour you can flirt with boundaries. I like to showcase how diverse and unusual flavours usually found in a kitchen can equally be delivered behind the bar. It is my experiential approach that enhances a multisensory experience allowing cocktails to live outside the glass.” – Richard Woods on bridging the worlds of culinary and beverage
Under the creative leadership of award-winning Head of Spirit and Cocktail DevelopmentRichard Woods, Samba Brands Management (SBM) restaurants’ ever-changing cocktail lists feature a diverse selection of spirits and an avant-garde approach to mixology. Since joining SBM in 2012, Richard has spearheaded and overseen the direction of beverage programs at locations across the globe, including SUSHISAMBA in New York, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Las Vegas and London and Duck & Waffle in London. In 2016, Richard will also oversee the development and modernisation of beverage programs at two of SBM’s locations in Miami: SUGARCANE raw bar grill and Bocce.
Richard’s affinity for the hospitality and beverage industry emerged during his first job in a suburban gastropub, where he quickly moved up the ranks into management. It was several years later, however, upon relocating to London that he pursued his true passion, entering the cocktail scene as Bar Manager of Floridita, Soho. In this new role, he embraced the opportunity to modernise classic Cuban cocktails under the helm of renowned restaurateur Sir Terence Conran. From 2007 – 2008, Richard accepted the position of General Manager, opening and managing locations in Madrid, Dublin, and Moscow.
In 2009, Richard was ready for his next challenge, accepting the position of Executive Beverage Director of Drink Development for Stambac International, the parent company of Floridita. In this new role, he enhanced the beverage program for sites in Canada, United Arab Emirates and London. With Richard behind the bar, Time Out named Floridita “Best New Bar” in 2006, “Best Bar” in 2007, one of the “Top 10 Nights Out” in 2007 and one of the “Top 5 Best Rum Bars in the World.” He was also named “Best New Bartender to Watch” in 2007 and Courvoisier’s “Top 30 ‘Ones to Watch.’’
Seeking a position that would put his imagination and creativity to the test, Richard accepted the role of Head of Spirit & Cocktail Development in 2012 for SBM, quickly becoming a pioneer in the industry. He has raised the ‘bar’ for his contemporaries by distilling his own flavours and aromas, experimenting with intricate methodologies and incorporating diverse and unusual ingredients to transform the cocktailing experience.
Impressing critics, connoisseurs and media alike, in 2014 he earned first place in the UK and Ireland Bombay Sapphire’s “World’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition” followed by second place in the world finals and he contributed to the Duck & Waffle’s cookbook: Duck & Waffle: Recipes and Stories, sharing a selection of his iconoclastic recipes with the world. In 2015, he received the honor of being the first bartender to participate in the prestigious “Who’s Cooking Dinner”, under his direction, Duck & Waffle was short-listed as a top 10 finalist in the “Best International Restaurant Bar” category for the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, and he was named one of Evening Standard’s “1,000 Most Influential People.” Richard has made numerous radio and TV appearances on such esteemed shows as the UK’s Channel 4 Sunday Brunch.
At SBM, Richard has the ability to work with a myriad of spirits, satisfying his passion for inventiveness and exploration. His creativity shines in Duck & Waffle Serves such as the Roasted Cosmo 2.0 and the Chocolate & Blue Cheese Martini. In the spring of 2015, Richard introduced Culinary Cocktails to SUSHISAMBA London’s menu, collaborating with Executive Chef Claudio Cardoso to present libations that pair perfectly with the cuisine, including the Kobe Cocktail and the Coconut Seviche Cocktail.