Justin Williams has been cooking professionally for 18 years, and is functionally fluent in both written and spoken Japanese. He started studying Japanese at Lake Oswego High School, and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, with a major in Sociology and minor in Japanese. As an exchange student, he spent one year in Kyoto, Japan, attending Doshisha University. There his studies focused on art and aesthetics, and included training as an apprentice with local chefs and ceramic artists.
Upon returning to Portland, Justin started training as an apprentice Sushi chef in 1991, and spent three years learning basic skills at Koji Osakaya. Then, drawn by an opportunity in Sun Valley, Idaho, Justin helped two partners open, and then run a successful 45-seat restaurant called Sushi on Second. A snowboard injury prompted relocation to Maui, Hawaii, where he worked at Sansei in the Kapalua Bay resort. There he learned about the local style of sushi, gained exposure to international cuisine and experienced a very competitive resort economy.
After Hawaii, Justin worked in Beaverton, Oregon, for a local Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya. At Uwajimaya, Justin was a Purchasing Manager, Deli Assistant Manager, and Seafood Processor. As the head beverage purchaser he was responsible for planning special promotions with local and international sake and wine companies. As Deli Manager he over-saw a large-scale Sushi and Asian foods deli including catering, pre-packaged sushi production, and special festival promotions.
In anticipation of marriage and family life, Justin accepted a chef position at Saburo’s Sushi House in Southeast Portland – an enormously popular restaurant - where the sushi is huge and the prices are low. But there was little opportunity for creative growth as a chef. After three years of keeping the pace at Saburo’s, a truly hectic, ‘Tokyo-style’ sushi house, Justin honed his finer chef skills with a stint at Masu in Northwest Portland.
As a side occupation, Justin has also been a Japanese teacher to Elementary and Middle school children. Justin also helped set up and teach cooking classes at Uwajimaya, where he learned to spread the joy of making Sushi to other Americans. He also taught for a local Portland cooking school, Caprial and John’s Kitchen, doing special menu preparation and wine pairings. He hopes to continue language and cooking classes in Hood River to help promote Japanese culture.
Besides cooking, other interests include outdoor activities such as snowboarding, biking, and gardening. Justin and Sushi Okalani will be very active in the promotion of the Japanese Heritage Garden being constructed in Hood River by the Central Gorge Master Gardener Association at the OSU Extension Center.
Amy Williams is an eight year Air Force veteran, who enjoyed three years living in Misawa, Japan. There she fell in love with the intricacies of Japanese food and culture. She met Justin while working at Uwajimaya, where she also was a Fish Processor. Her interests in the art of the Japanese tea ceremony and Asian aesthetics led her to cross paths with Justin, and then dream of opening a place of her own. She also enjoys being outdoors, writing poetry, and playing the Ukulele.
Sushi Okalani is named in honor of Justin and Amy’s daughter – Brooklyn Okalani Williams. Okalani is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘Child of Heaven.’ She is an enthusiastic sushi consumer, and hopes to be a chef someday soon. Look for her at the counter practicing her Te Maki. She is also the inspiration behind Justin and Amy’s desire to produce a ‘heavenly’ sushi experience.