Mike Han is on a mission.
The sushi chef moved to New York from Detroit four months ago when he realized that Detroit was not the ideal city to open an all-sustainable sushi restaurant.
Han ended up getting hired as the chef for Mayanoki, where he has the opportunity to "create the highest end expression of new American sushi. That's really a challenge and it's something that is really exciting for me to be able to explore what American sushi looks like."
According to Han, only using sustainable fish comes from selfish reasoning. "I'm a sushi eater first, sushi chef second. I've been eating sushi my entire life and so to me it's about wanting to eat delicious sushi that's going to allow us to continue to have variety," says Han. "To be able to continue to eat fish, we have to change or else, there's no more fish."
Han primarily sources his fish from two local providers, Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. and Blue Moon Fish. He says that getting local fish is his biggest concern, and working with these two companies means he can trust where his fish are coming from.
Stephanie Villani, who sells the fish that her husband Alex catches off of Long Island, says that she doesn't see too many chefs at her stand at the Union Square Greenmarket, because most chefs can't be as flexible as Han can be at Mayanoki.
"It's a good thing to educate people and introduce them to some different species that are plentiful that they wouldn't necessarily know about," says Villani. "And once they see what real, good, fresh fish is, they can't go back and buy tilapia from Vietnam. I mean, it's a huge difference."
Beyond buying local, Han looks to resources like the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which lists recommendations for both farmed and wild fish to be avoided based on how plentiful their stocks are, and if they are raised in a sustainable way.
Mayonaki is an Omakase sushi restaurant, meaning that the guests allow the chef to select their meal for them.
"Omakase is basically to trust the chef. So, as a customer, as a consumer, going into a place and ordering whatever the chef thinks is best for your meal," says Han. "They're trusting you to prepare, in our case, a 15-course meal and sometimes we have things that stretch people. That kind of push them to their limits."
And there aren't too many of those guests. A maximum of eight, to be exact, making for a unique and intimate dining experience. "It's a setting that's kind of unlike any sushi restaurant really. It feels like you're just coming home, going to someone's house and having a dinner party," says Han. "It's casual and we have New York hip hop on and we just get to explore together."
We caught a great white with the team behind the shark tracker app
You can catch a 15 pound fish right near Wall Street, but be careful if you want to eat it
A night in the life of a body sushi model (Nyotaimori)