The multi-restaurant owner talks style in food, dream collabs and new food ventures in D.C.
We are spotlighting the myriad voices redefining what it means to be stylish in the nation’s capital — from designers and stylists to entrepreneurs and athletes whose unique stories and perspectives shape bold visions. Check out our full Curators of Style roundup in the May issue here.
Katsuya Fukushima is not short on ideas. A pioneer of molecular gastronomy, he once tried to make gum out of steak. He dreams of running an eggs-only restaurant. His conversation dashes between food, fashion, history, ingredients and pop culture with playful ease. He has a sly and subversive streak, for sure, but Fukushima is also profoundly interested in the intrinsic possibilities of things. Nature, tradition and iconoclasm sit at the same table. He’s debonair to boot.
After sharpening his skills working with José Andrés at spots like Oyamel and Jaleo, Fukushima has become District ramen royalty. He and his partners operate Daikaya, D.C.’s first restaurant to sling Sapporo-style ramen; Bantam King for fried chicken; Hawaiian-inspired Hatoba; and Tonari, a wafu-Italian spot. Now, the venturesome chef is preparing for a wafu-Mexican popup at Haikan, his outpost in Shaw’s Atlantic Plumbing building.
We caught up with Fukushima to talk about how his style, in all its capacities, affects his many ventures.
District Fray: How do you describe your style?
Katsuya Fukushima: The first thing is comfort. I want to be comfortable. I also like everything classic. I also love things that make a splash, a statement. I made a Levi’s jean jacket with rose patches everywhere. I love baseball hats, and I have a good collection of Stetsons. And my newest thing is pearls: pearl earrings, pearl necklaces. And Adidas. On my dream list is a kitchen-shoe collaboration with Adidas.
How about your style in food?
That’s changed over the years. Now it’s very simple. I like simplicity and the natural way of things. Put food on the plate and let things flow wherever they go. A piece of steak should stay the shape it is; I’m not going to try to make it look like something it’s not. I already did that.
How has your personal style shown up in Daikaya Group restaurants?
Bantam King is the one I had the most influence in styling. The location used to be a Burger King, so we kept the “BK” and the fast-food tables. We kept the trays but put them on the wall as artwork. It’s just a fun, comfortable place.
What are the hallmarks of Sapporo-style ramen?
Sapporo is probably the closest to original Chinese ramen, because ramen came from China. There’s a wok element, so you get a char on the onion and the bean sprouts and the ground pork. That aroma works its way into the broth. There’s also the tare, which is the flavoring agent. It could be miso, shio, shoyu. In Sapporo, miso ramen is king. Some places will sauté the miso in the wok, so even that gets the smoky flavor. It’s incredible. It’s also a meal. Tokyo ramen is more like a snack after a night out. You eat Sapporo-style and you’re done.
What does “wafu” mean?
“Wafu” means “Japanese style.” The Japanese love taking things and doing their version of it. But respect is also a big thing. They want to do things correctly, so to speak. They really study. If you go to Japan, they have these incredible Italian places. The pizza I had in Tokyo and Kyoto was better than any pizza I’ve had in the States.
A lot of your food sits at cultural intersections. What has that shown you?
When I worked with José [Andrés] to open Oyamel, we went to Mexico for three weeks. He sent me to Spain twice a year when we were opening different Jaleos. It wasn’t just, “Flip through a cookbook.” It was, “Get there and taste things and see things and experience things.” So, the longer I cook, the more overlap I see. There needs to be a book — I’d take it on, but I can’t — with maps and lines of ships and the Silk Road, showing where spices and things are coming from and where they went. Look at tacos al pastor. It’s like shawarma from Lebanon.
What can you share about the wafu-Mexican popup coming to Haikan?
It’s coming together. I have a notebook of quick sketches and a bunch of notes. Tacos. Tortillas with Japanese flavorings. Shishito peppers. It’ll be fun. I don’t want to force things too much. I want to let things happen.
Keep up to date with Fukushima’s newest ventures on Instagram @katsuya_fukushima.
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