Executive Chef, Kata Robata Sushi & Grill
For a chef who has dazzled Houston and, for that matter, the culinary world in general, with such a vision for all things new, there’s irony in the fact Chef Horiuchi Manabu got his start in a retirement home.
Yet, that’s exactly where the executive chef of the acclaimed Kata Robata at 3600 Kirby near Richmond first planted his feet in a career that brought him to Houston as the personal chef of the Japanese Consul General, garnered him universal accolades from food writers and professionals alike and a vaulted him to becoming a finalist for a coveted James Beard Award.
If every retirement home in Japan has a chef like this, it could explain the secret of that country’s longevity records.
Actually Chef ‘Hori,’ as he is called now, already had his goal set to be a chef when he took the job as prep cook at age 16. The truth is it gave him an opportunity both to work in a kitchen and to work for the person who had inspired his career goals to begin with – his own mother who also happened to be the chef at the retirement home.
Born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1974, Chef Hori had culinary dreams in his blood by the time he was 10 – inspired by his mother who was precisionist when it came to preparing meals and acquiring the ingredients that went in them. To this day he praises her skill in preparing his bento box, the popular Japanese lunch boxes used often by workers, commuters and students.
By the time he was 19, he graduated with honors from Japan’s top culinary school, the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka. He was given a special certificate that allowed him to prepare blowfish, the expensive seafood delicacy that can also be deadly poison if not prepared correctly.
After graduation, he moved to Tokyo and began work at one of the most prestigious sushi restaurants in the country, Sushi-Ko Honten, where he became Executive Assistant Chef for celebrity chef Mamoru Sugiyama. From there, he advanced to sous chef at Ichimura Kansai Kappou, another highly recognized restaurant.
It was there his talents found even broader attention, leading to an invitation to move to Houston, Texas, and become the personal chef of the Consulate General of Japan. The invitation was quickly accepted, and he soon was on the other side of the world preparing family meals, overseeing menu planning for receptions and cooking for large social events where the guest lists included internationally-known statesmen and celebrities.
Fortunately – at least for Texas – when the time came to move back to Japan, Chef Hori and Houston weren’t ready to say goodbye. Soon he was Executive Chef at Kubo’s Sushi Bar and Grill which brought him fully into the spotlight of both diners and food writers, both full of praise for this young chef who was suddenly putting a whole new face on Japanese food. As his star rose – and rapidly – he was approached by Azuma Group’s Yun Cheng, a long-time fan. He was not looking to just hire Hori, but to build a restaurant with him. The plan, and now the reality, was Kata Robata.
Loosely translated, Kata Robata means kind of a grill. That says it … kind of. So does calling it a Japanese tapas restaurant … kind of. The fact is, Kata Robata is a lot of things, but a lot of things people have come to love. It is especially a place where Chef Hori has let his talents truly flower, combining traditional Japanese food with modern. Tasting menus (which change daily), grilled meats, vegetables and sushi – celebrated as the best in Houston by many – draws guests to its casual and comfortable interior.
And overseeing it all is a chef who once prepped food for a retirement home. He continues to give everyone something to look forward to – now and later.