Greta Reid became addicted to Japanese culture growing up. While at the University of Minnesota, she worked in a restaurant with a sushi bar and eventually began training to make sushi rolls and nigiri pieces. After her sister came to New Orleans to attend Loyola University, her family moved here. Although Reid pursued a master’s degree in child and family psychology at the University of Denver, she also worked at Uchi, an upscale sushi restaurant launched in Texas by award-winning chef Tyson Cole. James Beard Foundation. After graduating, Reid returned to New Orleans, and although she worked with school children, such as hosting an “Iron Chef” style cooking competition at Edible Schoolyard, she found herself focused on starting her own sushi business. Greta’s Sushi now offers direct-order dine-in menus, pop-ups and takeout through her Instagram account, @gretassushi. She is offering a five-course “Somakase” dinner with wine pairings on Friday, September 16 at wine shop The Independent Caveau. Visit gretassushi.com for more information.
Gambit: How did you start making sushi?
Greta Reid: I have always been interested in sushi and Japanese culture. I was a huge anime fan. People in my family made fun of me because I liked anime.
I landed my first sushi job in Minnesota. It was not a traditional sushi restaurant. It was Chino Latino, and the concept was hot zone street food, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. So there was North African food and South American food. Japan is not in the tropics, but they had a sushi bar.
I was a food runner at the restaurant when I was 17. I did this for a few years, and I impressed the team because I was the only food runner who wasn’t a guy, and I worked really hard. I asked if I could learn how to make sushi, and even though they liked me, they said no. They were like, ‘It’s a career, and we’ve worked very hard to learn how to do it.’ But they let me start training. They let me start practicing with maki rolls. Later I got into making more traditional nigiri.
At Uchi in Denver, I really upped my game. That’s where I had to move up the ladder. I came early to make rice and was the rookie showing everyone how hard I worked, carrying the sushi rice, which was heavy. I moved to different stations to work as a sous chef. I was right under the Ichi, which means #1 in Japanese.
I made a lot of sashimi and crudos. Uchi is also where I learned to make nigiri quickly, like it was flying out of my hand. We would have lines out the door for happy hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
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Gambit: Was it weird making sushi in a landlocked country?
Reid: Some landlocked states have very good sushi. In Denver, we had a big airport hub, and that’s what it’s all about: what you can fly. This Uchi was the first location outside of Texas. It took off in Houston, which also has a major airport hub.
At Uchi, I loved serving whitefish, black sea bream, walleye snapper and all those interesting snapper varieties that come from cold water areas. They have oily and dense textures, so they are really good.
Here I like to use Gulf snapper, Texas striped bass, tuna which I get on and off. I get hiramasa, or yellowtail amberjack. For omakases, I branch out and get East Coast scallops. I try to source as much locally as possible and always use Louisiana crab. I keep things seasonal.
Gambit: how does Greta’s Sushi work?
Reid: I do a whole mixture of things. I do a lot of pop-ups, but catering to private dinners is what I really enjoy doing. I usually make omakases so it will be like a 10 course meal. Sometimes it’s sit-down dinners like fine dining. Sometimes I have people who mix and come to me. I like to start (an omakase) with lighter citrus flavors and move to heavier and more intense flavors.
One of my recurring dishes is a tomato “tofu” that I learned in Minneapolis. I take heirloom tomatoes and mix them with Usukuchi soybeans, a little rice vinegar and agar agar, which is like a gelatin made from seaweed. It turns into this lush jelly, but it holds its shape, so you can cut a square that’s a perfect little tomato bite. I cover it with tobiko. I like to make sake poached shrimp that I serve with dashi dressing. Another dish of mine is galia melon and lemon cucumber gazpacho, made with a flambé togarashi scallop, spiced roasted pumpkin seeds, mint, Thai basil, olive oil and lime.
When I started, people wanted to know if I had a Cali roll. I was defiant at first. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but I found common ground.
I make a few versions of other Japanese dishes. I make a gatoryaki. It’s like takoyaki, which are octopus balls. I make them with alligator, so it’s like a Japanese-Cajun fusion. I serve it with traditional Japanese toppings.
I learned a lot at Uchi, but a lot of my knowledge was accumulated from there, Chino Latino and Rock-N-Sake. For a year and a half that I have been working alone, I have learned techniques to arrive at sauces. I come up with my own new dishes every week.
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