Neal Covington, 29, is maritime liaison and “afishionado” for the restaurant Sushi Nakazawa in New York City. A D.C. location, Nakazawa, will open this summer in the Trump International Hotel. He lives in Brooklyn.
Your restaurant’s in a building leased by President Trump, and other restaurants have backed out of the space for political reasons. How many fatty tuna sashimi would you give me not to put you on the spot by asking the rest of this question?
As much as you want!
Awesome! Chef Daisuke Nakazawa has said he likes to have fish from near the restaurant. What does that mean for a restaurant in D.C.?
Some Japanese chefs won’t use fish from the Atlantic, but just fish flown in from Japan. We will use anything that’s fresh enough and handled properly by the fisherman. There’s some delicious scallops, groupers and mackerels all along the East Coast. Right now, we have some sweet northern pink shrimps from Maine.
Most sushi restaurants don’t have a maritime liaison. Why is that?
I don’t know! I’m an intermediary between the chefs and the front of the house, and it really makes everything easier. I know how to answer a lot of things — how things are prepped, what the fish look and taste like. Today we got in some fish that the chefs had ordered, and none of them knew what the fish was called in English. I could tell it was a spadefish but had to figure out what kind, since there are a lot. It is — I’m not sure I’m going to pronounce this right — an orbicular batfish, related to spadefish that you can find on the East Coast.
This will be in print; nobody can tell how you pronounce it. How’d you get this job?
I can look at a piece of fish and know what kind and where in the body it was cut from, its condition.
From the color, tendons and blood lines. Some people use the skin that is left on to identify each fish, but if the chef were to remove it, which they sometimes do, you would be totally lost. Each fish has almost a fingerprint unique to itself.
So, this is a talent, or a skill?
A little bit of both. I just discovered I could do it and decided to push myself to see how far I could take it. My dad still laughs at me; he reminds me that I would only eat burgers and chicken Caesar salads growing up.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Jellyfish, or maybe sea cucumber.
How was it prepared?
Cooked. It basically doesn’t have any flavor, so it’s just this crunchiness. They put some ponzu gelatin on it.
What’s the best food you’ve had in Washington?
I’ve only been there once, and it was for a wedding. It was also the same time as my first child was born and I don’t really remember. Room service?
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