Sakamai is a natural expression of our experiences of Japan and New York, taking their best culinary traditions to create an enjoyable New York Izakaya.
sakamai means “saké rice.” Our kanji characters translate to “drink and dance.”
Born into a family of sushi chefs in Miyazaki on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu, Chef Akiyama’s culinary path was paved for him at birth. After attending culinary school in his hometown, he started working at Serina in the renowned Roppongi district of Tokyo. Here at the acclaimed Serina, Akiyama sharpened his basic skills and developed his culinary foundation as well as learned the time-honored art of kaiseki cuisine.
In 1995, Akiyama was invited to New York as executive sous chef to Chef Hitoshi Kagawa at Oikawa Restaurant. Under the mentorship of Chef Kagawa, Akiyama was introduced to the world of Modern Japanese cuisine. Subsequently in 1999, Akiyama moved to Lan Restaurant, a Japanese establishment in the East Village, in his first role as Executive Chef. The job afforded him an opportunity to cultivate and explore his own cooking style and to develop management skills – and as such, Akiyama embraced the challenge of running a kitchen and creating inventive yet budget-conscious dishes.
Two years later, Akiyama was invited to head the kitchen at Forbidden City, tasked with creating a menu suitable for a pan-Asian themed posh lounge. His time here demonstrated his versatility and breadth of skill, as he re-invented his style to inspire dishes geared to a very distinct audience than before. In 2003, Akiyama returned to Lan as Partner/ Executive Chef, where he continued to establish and refine his signature style of cooking. Akiyama developed quite a cult following in New York food crowd while at Lan, and food aficionados have often described his style as Modern Japanese with a French twist.
Akiyama returned to Japan in 2010 to be with his family, and his father’s restaurant in Miyazaki was in dire need of help. During his time there, he was reintroduced to the variety and quality of local Japanese ingredients. He was able to not only share the skills he developed in New York, but he also was able to touch up on and re-master traditional Japanese cooking in his homeland, something he had yearned for during his years in New York City. Akiyama reestablished his roots in and reignited his passion for traditional Japanese cuisine, and armed with this spirit he returned to New York with an even sharper vision for his cooking.
Upon his return to New York, he worked as consulting chef for Dieci in the East Village, and eventually rose to lead the kitchen as Executive Chef. Chef Akiyama is extremely excited to be part of the SakaMai family, and is looking forward to creating innovative dishes that will provide a memorable SakaMai experience.
SakaMai was conceived by childhood friends, Natalie Graham and Tanner Fahl. As Hawaii-born Japanese - Americans, they're happy to present the amazing cuisine they grew up with in an approachable context.