Yellowfinn and The Flying Sumo making waves in Utah’s sushi market

Story and slideshow by SHAANTAI LEARY

Experience the atmosphere of Yellowfinn and The Flying Sumo


“It’s a ‘what do you think I should get’ roll,” said Willie Hatton-Ward, 22, a sushi chef at Yellowfinn, a grill and sushi bar in Salt Lake City.

Hatton-Ward describes his signature roll as an inside-out roll. He tops a bed of rice with seaweed and then fills it with cilantro, jalapeños, and tempura yams and shrimp. He trims the roll with spicy tuna and spicy mayo as well as wasabi-flavored tobiko and serves it with a side of Thai chili sauce. Hatton-Ward’s wry sense of humor is evident in the dish’s name, Flock of Seagals, which is a play on Utah’s state bird and the family of actors whose last name is Seagal.

Hatton-Ward has been working for Yellowfinn for about nine months and has been rolling sushi for about a year. He started his career at the Flying Sumo Sushi bar and grill in Park City, which is also where he was trained in the art of sushi rolling. Hatton-Ward said in order to get started as a sushi chef, it is about “who you know and a dedication level” to the art of making sushi. A sushi chef needs to “be able to handle certain stressful situations.”

Colleen Sharpe, 25, another sushi chef at Yellowfinn, said it can become very stressful to get the rolls out quickly during the dinner rush. Her favorite rolls to do during that time are the basic rolls with only one ingredient, such as a cucumber (kyuri) roll.

Sharpe, who is from Los Angeles, got her start in Big Bear Lake, Calif. She was lucky to be trained by one of the few women sushi chefs. They worked at a restaurant called Ichiban, which was later renamed and now no longer exists.

“If I went back out to LA, I wouldn’t be able to get a job,” Sharpe said. However, in Utah, things are a little different. In Utah, she said, you can take a break and come back because sushi chefs are in demand here.

“You’re always learning something,” Sharpe said. The trick is to “find somebody who’s willing to train you.”

Sharpe feels that in the sushi making world, “if you have any experience, it goes a long way.”

She is occasionally asked to accommodate customers who are allergic to various foods, including fish. She said she must use new knives and sanitize the food preparation station, even if she is busy during peak hours.

Yellowfinn, in Salt Lake City’s Sugarhouse neighborhood, is one of many sushi restaurants in Utah. However, it is one of the few that are actually open on Sundays. Its parent restaurant, the Flying Sumo, is also open on Sundays starting at 5:30 p.m.

Yellowfinn was unusually quiet during a Sunday visit in late October. Both Hatton-Ward and Sharpe said the rainy weather may have delayed dinner customers. The restaurant features dark wood, walls painted in maroon and beige and soft lighting.

Basic rolls cost between $6 and $10. Specialty rolls range from $10 to $15. Every day, the restaurant offers a “Hammertime” special from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., which consists of $5 rolls and appetizers.

The Flying Sumo, located on the backside of Park City Utah’s Main Street, offers basic rolls costing between $7 and $15 and specialty rolls from $12 to $17. It has catered to everyday diners as well as many celebrities, from Paris Hilton to David Arquette. The room feels a little more like a club, with low lighting and dark red walls. During a recent visit, two televisions located behind the sushi bar played James Bond’s “Golden Eye,” while music by the group Owl City played in the background. It is open every day from 5:30 p.m. to close, which is usually around 10 p.m.

Adam Brown, 37, and Paul Munarriz, who did not state his age, are two sushi chefs at the Flying Sumo who have personally catered to the rich and famous.

Brown said that Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie came in to eat and Paris had broken something. Brown suggested that she go pick one up at Walmart because it is just down the street.

Brown recalled her saying as she sat at the sushi bar, “What’s Walmart? Do they sell walls there?”

Munarriz recounts one of his run-ins with Danny Glover. Munarriz said Glover was eating at the bar and had a plate balancing there. When Munarriz stood up, he almost knocked off the plate.

“He almost went ‘Lethal Weapon’ on me,” Munarriz said. Glover found it to be quite amusing as well.

Brown made a new version of the classic Vegas roll. As an inside-out roll, it contained jalapeño, cream cheese, avocado, salmon, tuna and spicy crab. While doing this he explained that rolling a sushi (meaning seasoned rice) roll is a three-step process for him. The final step is important in order to create a roll that will not fall apart. Brown leaves a small lip of the seaweed to tuck to the bottom of the roll; this prevents it from unraveling as the knife cuts through.

“You should call it the Wendover, patent it, [you will make] a million dollars,” Brown said with a smile across his face.

Another special dish at The Flying Sumo is the Super Mars roll. It is another inside-out roll containing tempura shrimp, sprouts, asparagus and lemon and topped with tuna, avocado, spicy crab, crunchies, tobiko (flying fish eggs) and eel sauce placed across the top. A Mars roll’s base is usually shrimp and cucumber; however, Brown removed the cucumber.

Munarriz said he and the other chefs have their own language and code for speaking to one another. “We’ll never reveal it,” he said.

The Flying Sumo has a sense of peace and serenity that makes people return whenever they are in town. “The Sumo has a special magic about him,” Brown said.

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