‘Kakehashi: A Portrait of Chef Nobuo Fukuda’: Film Review

A Japanese chef transplanted to Arizona stars in Andrew Gooi’s foodie doc ‘Kakehashi: A Portrait of Chef Nobuo Fukuda.’

The story of an unlikely but ultimately celebrated cooking career, Andrew Gooi’s Kakehashi: A Portrait of Chef Nobuo Fukuda introduces a man who left his native Japan for the American Southwest, then found renown as the head of his own restaurant — but only after an initial career on the ski slopes. Fukuda makes for fine company here, but the slender doc’s main appeal is its obsessively detailed account of one of the chef’s tasting menus — which will have most viewers searching Yelp as the credits roll, looking for the Japanese-Modern eatery closest to whatever festival-circuit theater they happen to be in.

Born to an unusually elderly father and a tradition-oriented mother, Fukuda practiced Noh theater and the like but always had an eye out for something different. He found it at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka; soon he was following a friend to Arizona, where he worked as a dishwasher at Benihana before being allowed to cook.

The Bottom Line

A slim but mouthwatering culinary portrait.

But instead of pursuing this as a calling, Fukuda was drawn to the region’s snowy slopes, where he decided to apply for a ski patrol job. He held the gig for years, until the responsibilities of fatherhood demanded a more serious occupation. He eventually opened a “Japanese tapas” restaurant called Sea Saw, which won him a James Beard award in 2007.

In between following Fukuda to Tokyo and listening to his stories, first-time director Gooi (whose production company Food Talkies just earned a couple of its own James Beard nominations) devotes long stretches of time to close-ups of the chef at work, assembling the four-course meal he now serves at a Phoenix restaurant called Nobuo at Teeter House. With one of the courses containing as many as nine components, each balancing several different ingredients against each other, that’s a lot of flavor to keep up with. But Gooi’s lush cinematography enlivens the chef’s calm narration, making an umami-loving viewer consider braving an Arizona summer — if only for one evening — to taste all this.

Production company: Food Talkies
Director-producer: Andrew Gooi
Director of photography: Andrew Gooi
Music: Premiumbeat.com
Editor: Andrew Gooi
Venue: Seattle International Film Festival

In Japanese and English
59 minutes