A Face In The Crowd 

Tomiji “Sunny” Takizawa, the owner and master chef at Shintomi in Green Hills, neither looks nor acts his age. The spry, impish 59-year-old could easily pass for 40 (more evidence that a fish-based diet is good for you) and on weekend nights can always be found cutting raw fish behind the sushi bar and cutting up with the patrons who watch his work. Regulars at Shintomi—Japanese for “fresh and rich”—have probably seen Sunny pose for pictures with customers wearing a woman's wig and kimono. Or they've enjoyed a demonstration of one of his many erotic wind-up toys that loyal customers have brought him over the years. But Sunny's ostensible lack of seriousness belies a lifetime's commitment to cuisine. In this sternly hierarchical profession, he began his training at 17, apprenticing in a Tokyo restaurant, cooking rice, cleaning fish and otherwise expediting food for three years. When one of the master chef's assistants took ill, Takizawa's training was accelerated and he achieved master chef status in five years—an ascent that normally takes 10. He opened his first restaurant in Nagaoka at 22 and spent the next two decades honing his craft. After a rough divorce, he came to America to start life anew and to bring authentic Japanese food to this country. After stints in Chicago, New Orleans and Orlando, Takizawa was drawn to Nashville for two reasons: “The rolling hills are very much like Japan. And I love country music,” he says. Country music stars love him as well, evidenced by the autographed photos hanging throughout his restaurant. Sunny's clientele has run the gamut of Music City's elite, from Shania Twain to Keith Urban to Amy Grant and Mindy McCready. “None of them were famous when they started coming to my restaurant,” he says. “Now they're all such big stars, they don't come in anymore.”

— By Adam Ross


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