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Michigan Chef Hajime Sato of Sozai wins James Beard Award

Michigan sushi chef wins James Beard Award
Michigan sushi chef wins James Beard Award 01:02

(CBS DETROIT) - Hajime Sato, chef and owner of Sozai in Clawson, won a 2024 James Beard Award. 

Sato won the Best Chef: Great Lakes award, making him the first sushi chef to win a regional Best Chef award. 

He was presented with the award Monday evening at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. Sato competed against chefs from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. 

Sozai is a sustainable sushi restaurant that focuses on utilizing local ingredients. 

Sato first opened a restaurant in Seattle 30 years ago but opened Sozai in 2019 after he and his wife relocated to Metro Detroit so his wife could receive cancer treatment. 

During his acceptance speech, Sato admitted he didn't know much about the James Beard Awards until a few years ago. 

When his wife called to tell him he had been nominated, he said, "Ah, that's for the fancy chefs, you know. I'm not it." 

"I'm one of those guys, can I make the sushi rice a little better today than yesterday? Can I make an impact on one person's life when I serve sushi? That's who I am," Sato said. 

He went on to say that things changed after he was nominated for the James Beard Awards and that people started listening to him. 

"I've been doing ocean conservation and sustainable sushi for 15 years," said Sato. "Oceans is not in good shape. Earth is not in good shape. And small restaurant like me cannot really do that much. But everybody here, nominations, winners, everybody, now you have a voice...I need everybody's help so that maybe we can do this award ceremony 10 years from now."

Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere, the husband-and-wife duo behind Baobab Fare, were also up for the Outstanding Restaurateur award, but Erika Whitaker and Kelly Whitaker, ID EST Hospitality Group in Boulder, Colorado, won. 

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