Sushi Sasabune lost its star chef this past week.

Nobi Kusuhara, the chef-owner of the high-end sushi restaurant Sushi Sasabune, passed away last Sunday, August 4. The Daily Press was told the chef passed away from B-Cell Lymphoma and was also battling liver cancer at the time of his death.

Sushi Sasabune alerted customers to Kusuhara’s death this past week, emailing patrons and posting the chef’s biography to social media as well as when and where to pay their respects.

Sushi Sasabune Glendale’s head chef, Hiroki Totsuka, will take over the chain’s Wilshire location while the Glendale and Beverly Hills locations will be sold off to new owners who were also trained under Chef Nobi.

The Glendale and Beverly Hills locations will still maintain the Sasabune style, an Edo style that focuses on simplicity.

Kusuhara was a well-known chef in the culinary world and popular with patrons. The words ‘TRUST ME’ appear in each of his restaurant locations, a message to let customers know he had their tastebud’s best interests at heart.

“He cared greatly about Sasabune style and customer’s enjoyment of sushi,” Totsuka said. Totsuka was Kusuhara’s apprentice since 2003 and learned the ins and outs of Kusuhara’s style for roughly 15 years.

He walked into Sasabune one day with no chef experience whatsoever, looking for a work opportunity after having dinner at the restaurant. Totsuka says he was struck by the quality, saying even the sushi in his home country of Japan didn’t have sushi that could compare to Kusuhara’s.

The Sasabune chef took Totsuka under his wing, teaching his eventual successor everything he knew: how to cut fish, when to head to the fish markets (before dawn), how to present a Sasabune style sushi (cold fish on loose, warm balls of rice) and what vendors to trust, among a multitude of learnings.

“Nowadays, so many sushi restaurants make fancy sushi,” Totsuka said. “They put toppings like caviar and other stuff on sushi. Nobi-san teaches to do very simple—just high-quality fish and warm rice. He taught me that style. When a customer eats sushi with warm rice, the warmth brings out the sweetness of the fish. Nothing else. Simple. That’s Sasabune style.”

Totsuka likened Kusuhara to a stern father, teaching him culinary secrets inch by inch with no room for error.

Totsuka laughs off the stern lessons, calling them necessary to not only his continuing of the restaurant and sushi chef education, but also important lessons for his life. Totsuka gets emotional for a brief moment, noting he’ll miss his former teacher.

“I’m still learning about sushi every day and I have 16 years of experience,” Totsuka said with a smirk. “When I don’t know something, he’d always give me a good answer. Not just for sushi, but for my life. He always gave me good advice. He was like my father. He taught me everything I know. He changed my life. I’ll miss him. It feels like I lost my father.”

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