With familial roots in both fishing and farming, Youji Iwakura deems his culinary journey an “ancestral assignment.” He dreamed of becoming a restaurateur, as a child inspired during an occasional meal out with family in his hometown of Kamakura, Japan. A chef, clad in his signature, white attire, stepped out of the restaurant’s kitchen to personally acknowledge Youji with hospitality. Moved by this experience, Youji solidified his vision to work in the restaurant industry.
At 24, Youji moved to Boston from Japan, attending and graduating from the Berklee College of Music. Entering a tough economy, he became a sushi chef at authentic Japanese restaurants, including Ginza in Brookline, Massachusetts, yielding eight years of sushi training. Youji then transitioned to the front of house, moving one step closer to his ideal restaurateur role. He worked as a bartender at Troquet and as front manager/beverage director of several Boston restaurants, ultimately returning to the kitchen at Ken Oringer’s renowned UNI, which was recognized within a year by Boston magazine for ‘Best Seafood 2005.’
To further hone his skills, Youji traveled back to Japan for two years, working at an upscale Japanese brasserie. He returned to Boston with increased culinary knowledge, passion and desire, becoming Chef de Cuisine at UNI. Under Youji’s leadership, the tiny sashimi bar gained recognition for the most innovative and best-quality Japanese cuisine in the city.