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, and Miami Beach, 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 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. 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.
Shoyo Iida – Executive Sushi Chef
Executive Sushi Chef, Shoyo Iida, takes center stage at Lincoln Road’s bustling Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian eatery, SUSHISAMBA Miami Beach. Fusing culinary precision with artistic execution, Iida is best known for his ability to create inspirational rolls that are as much vibrant as they are gastronomically eloquent. In the six years he has been part of the SUSHISAMBA team he has contributed to some of the restaurants top selling rolls including the ever popular Ezo Roll.
Expanding outside of the day-to-day operation of an Executive Sushi Chef, Iida is also responsible for teaching the “sushi portion” of the wildly popular monthly sushi & sake 101 classes. Students are schooled on the history and techniques of making sushi with one-on-one assistance from Iida. In addition to educating, Iida is also an advocate for community-based initiatives and is a supporter of Best Buddies. In 2009, Iida created a specialty “Best Buddies Roll,” which headlined the Neighbors section of The Miami Herald and was broadcast on television networks throughout South Florida.
“I am a believer in the importance of knowledge,” says Iida. “Sushi is more than just a great culinary indulgence; it is a representation of fine craftsmanship and deep-rooted history.”
Born in a small town outside of Sapporo, Japan, Chef Iida realized his passion for food at a young age. Eager to learn more about this indigenous food approach he journeyed on a quest to learn more. Carrying out his pursuit of knowledge, Iida gained experience at New York City sushi haunts such as Tuski and Sushi Gen.
Chef Iida’s other passions span outside the center stage sushi-bar where he performs nightly. When he is not performing for foodies, he can be found performing on his guitar alongside his fellow EZO rock group band mates. The Japanese heavy metal band originates from Sapporo, Japan and is a fusion of hard rock meets heavy/speed metal.
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 Development Richard Woods, Samba Brands Management (SBM) restaurants’ ever-changing cocktail lists feature a diverse selection of spirits and an avantgarde 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, Las Vegas and London and Duck & Waffle in London. In 2016, Richard will also oversee the development and modernization 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 modernize 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 flavors 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.