Travis Kamiyama’s philosophy is simple: “to leave a legacy, to empower others and to make the ordinary into extraordinary.” The chef and consultant, who helped develop the iconic Izumi Asian restaurant for Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas is a determined kitchen captain that leads by example. “It’s important to me that I use my talent, passion, and drive in such a way that will positively impact my surroundings, whether in business, among my colleagues and staff, or personally”, he says.
We recently had the opportunity of talking with him about innovation, challenges and his interesting approach to Asian cuisine on board. He acknowledges how useful it has been to have studies in business through his culinary career: “My background in economics has been invaluable. Like any business, an amalgamation of skills is essential for it to be successful. In this instance, culinary skills and an understanding of business areas like finance and marketing are key to building a profitable restaurant.”
Travis Kamiyama oversees 43 restaurants on the high seas and on land; and Royal Caribbean accounts for more than half of these and the larger part of his yearly focus. He also has 6 seafood restaurants in Los Angeles, and looks after the Asian restaurants in 5-star resorts in the Caribbean Islands.
What’s the difference between working for a restaurant on land and on a cruise?
“Many of the principles of working at a restaurant on land vs. at sea are similar, as they fall under the hospitality umbrella. However, the high seas adds an element of change and intensity that is not echoed on land. With Royal Caribbean, for one half of the year we operate within a hotel with 2700 rooms that has been stocked with inventory that would also service guests on 43rd and Broadway in New York City. Then all of a sudden after 5 months, you have to shift that hotel to an Asian market, which must encompass South East Asian demographics in terms of products, the mentality of the servers and cooks, and the underlying culture in servicing the guests. Can a land based operator fathom such an extreme change over?”
Working with sushi, the freshness of the fish is vital, how do you ensure to get that on a cruise?
“I work closely with the Supply Chain team and keep them well informed of reputable fish importers and suppliers globally, ensuring that I’m able to get the specifications and varieties that I need to maintain our high standard of food and service. Maintaining a close working relationship with Supply Chain is extremely important.
We also use technology in order to provide guests with the freshest tuna. We have super freezers on Quantum class ships and on Harmony of the Seas. The freezers allow us to keep the temperature of the fish at -76 °F (-60 °C) which is essential for top grade tuna and sashimi grade fish.”
A Normal Day On Board
Travis takes “both a micro and a macro approach” when working on board. “I oversee all elements of the running of the restaurant and the kitchen; of course, I have to taste samples daily, and oversee the preparation and execution in the kitchen and sushi bar.” He also checks provision areas, stocks and products personally, and constantly touches base with all senior management teams. “It’s very important that we work closely together and seamlessly, like a well-oiled machine! Their full support and cooperation is essential and a huge part of our success.”
When asked about what dishes are the most popular on board, he points out Izumi’s signature rolls, “for example, Champagne Lobster Roll, or the Snow Crab & Eel Dynamite”, he adds that their Hibachi live cooking sessions on Oasis class ships are also very popular and widely known.
On Trends, Innovation and Future Projects
After the success of Izumi, Travis and Royal Caribbean have developed Izumi Express, a quick service, which “allows us to offer packaged sushi as a take-out to guests on the ships in the fleet. In the near future, guests will also be able to enjoy Izumi sushi from an Izumi cart which will service the Royal Promenade and pool areas.”
And this is not the only project keeping Travis busy, he mentions that one day he’d like to create documentaries on the history and trends of sushi. “It’s a fascinating story stemming from Japan to throughout Asia”, and he has given a lot of though to how each region nowadays boasts its own definition of sushi.
Innovation and being on the cutting edge of news trends while retaining respect for the classics is important to me, and I am working to tailor and customise the consultancy approach to bring that unique blend to life.
Regarding the main differences between what international customers look for in sushi and what Japanese palates prefer, he mentions that there is “a vast distinction” of sushi preferences between both types of consumers. “International guests tend to go for the carpaccio -seasoned sashimi- and signature maki rolls, whereas Japanese guests tend to keep it pure and simple. They mostly eat fresh and regional fish and use only soy sauce.”
What is the biggest challenge you face with your work and how do you overcome it?
“It can be easy sometimes to lose myself in the day-to-day pressures and lose sight of the bigger picture. I continually evaluate my current and future projects to mitigate pressure that can be overwhelming and detrimental.
It’s about balance. I make a conscious effort to ensure that professionally, my work is aligned with my expertise as a Culinary Sushi Master, and that personally, I maintain a family life and continue to make a valuable contribution to society.”
What part of your job do you find the most satisfying?
“I take inventory on a bi-annual basis and it’s the results of these inventories, seeing my achievements on paper that gives me the most professional satisfaction and a feeling of fulfillment. My work is complex with many hurdles and challenges so to see solid results is like getting a high score on a final exam!
I was raised to be very disciplined by my father and as such, each and every element of what I do, I commit to fully and give 100%. So, it’s rewarding to see the strong results come in.”
What learning experience from the beginning of your career has caused the biggest impact in the way you do things now?
“I have learned a lot and heard a lot during my career but a couple of things have stayed with me. Firstly, to stay honest to myself in all that I do, and secondly, to be genuinely hospitable to guests. To me, that means serving more than just meals, it means you serve from the heart. Guests should feel your passion in their food, in how they are served and in their surroundings, whether they are sharing a cruise ship with 3,000 other guests or dining in an intimate restaurant in the suburbs.”
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.