Self-taught chef 'Jimmy' Sueyoshi dead at 75
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
James "Jimmy" Sueyoshi, a high-school dropout who became one of the top chefs in Hawai'i despite never taking a formal cooking class, died April 11. He was 75.
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"Jimmy" Sueyoshi was named Outstanding Chef by the Professional Cooks of Hawai'i in 1972.
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Sueyoshi was born in Fukuoka, Japan, on Aug. 27, 1927, and his family moved to Hawai'i when he was 3 months old. As he began his second year at McKinley High School, Sueyoshi's father got sick and Sueyoshi made the tough decision to leave school and get a job as a dining room helper at the Niumalu Hotel, where the Hilton Hawaiian Village now stands.
Sueyoshi made his way into the kitchen and got his first major job in 1948 as first cook in the Skyroom at the old airport. His career began to take off as he landed executive chef jobs at Liberty House Garden Court and Michel's at the Colony Surf.
Although his career was flourishing, Sueyoshi left the big kitchens in 1971 to launch the food service program at Leeward Community College. The idea was to combine classroom work with practical experience.
"He was selected because he had such a reputation as being a local boy, understanding the food service industry," said Fern Tomisato, coordinator of LCC's culinary program. "For many years he was closely connected with the coffee shops and dinner houses right around the Leeward area. So many of our original students found employment right in this community."
Today, the college offers a variety of courses including food sanitation, baking, cooking and serving. Students also work in the school's fine-dining restaurant, The Pearl.
Tomisato said many LCC graduates have gone on to careers in the food service industry and they have people like Sueyoshi to thank.
"During that time (the 1960s), local boys weren't chefs. They always brought in the chefs from Europe," she said. "He was one of the first chefs in one of these fine-dining, European kind of restaurants."
Sueyoshi will be inducted into the college's Culinary Hall of Fame during the school's "Taste of the Stars" event May 3.
"We're recognizing him because we wanted to do something that would give the message to our students that you can have a lifetime career in the culinary field," Tomisato said.
Sueyoshi is survived by his wife, Nancy; son, Gordon; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sister, Kay Tanaka. Visitation is 4 p.m. Sunday at Borthwick Mortuary; service is at 5 p.m.