Travis Kamiyama: Sushi Chef and Entrepreneur Oversees Restaurant on World’s Largest Cruise Ship
When Travis Kamiyama (Class of '97, B.S. economics) opened Kamiyama Sushi in 2000 in Lomita, he served his unique interpretations of sushi in a tiny storefront that seated about five people at the bar. Ever expanding his international restaurant empire – he has a sushi and tapas bar in Osaka and contracts with the Market Broiler in Orange – the Okinawan native recently completed his first voyage as executive sushi chef and consultant aboard the Oasis of the Seas. The newest addition to the Royal Caribbean line, the Oasis is the largest cruise ship in the world with 16 decks and accommodations for 5,400 guests at double occupancy.
“I broke out of the South Bay into international waters,” says Kamiyama. “I hope in the future to become the authority in the cruise ship industry in terms of Asian food and sushi.”
Used to running restaurants on land, where the accessibility of exotic ingredients are almost never an issue, Kamiyama had to learn to strategize on what his ocean-bound restaurant Izumi could offer while keeping its quality high. More than 20 specialty restaurants and other concessions on board the Oasis gather their weekly food supply through an elaborate provision system that enables them to serve 25,000 meals a day during a week-long cruise to approximately 8,000 people – guests and crew – on board.
“On a cruise ship, the hardest thing is to bring in the quality of food that you have on land,” Kamiyama says. “That was the frustrating part, to understand the whole operational aspect of it... that [mine] wasn’t the only restaurant that existed.”
Other limitations have motivated Kamiyama’s creativity. Dishes that are traditionally cooked at the table by guests themselves, like shabu-shabu, had to be adapted since open flames are not allowed in the dining area. Kamiyama was able to compromise by using a 550 degree stone tablet that diners use to grill their own meats and seafood at their tables, or a “hot pot” for dishes like sukiyaki.
He also enjoys the challenge of serving sushi to an international audience – some of whom may never have had it before their cruise.
“It’s very open,” says Kamiyama of his globally influenced versions of classic Japanese sushi that incorporate elements from Asian, Latin, and Californian cuisine. “I’m Japanese, I speak Japanese, I was raised there until I was 6 years old. My parents are Japanese, my wife is Japanese. So I know everything that I need to know.
“It’s just that at the end of the day, this is America,” he says. “I’m going to make sure that I think a little bit bigger and more globally.”
Kamiyama, who loves catering and teaching sushi-making, enjoys the performance aspects of being a sushi chef, a skill he learned at the age of 14.
“It’s natural for me, I can talk and do it at the same time,” he says. “I’m just being myself, I guess. I’d like to be remembered as, ‘Travis was a guy that really loved culinary art and being hospitable to people. He was good at it.’ That’s kind of what I’m known for.”
A self-imposed discipline belies Kamiyama’s casual demeanor. As a student at CSU Dominguez Hills, he says he appreciated the “great staff, great teachers, great curriculum.” He also relied on his own self-motivation.
“When I attended Dominguez Hills in the early 1990s, it was a small campus compared to now,” he says. “But I applied myself enough and took full advantage of every opportunity I had, asking questions, reading a lot, networking with all the people. I think anybody can acquire that mindset and the drive and desire.”
As an entrepreneur, Kamiyama holds firm to the same drive, and says that, “Valuing people and valuing relationships is a huge part of it.”
“Always network and be optimistic as much as possible because you never know when you can run into key people who can refer you to new deals or opportunities,” he says. “And always have integrity. Never discount your services or passion. If you commit to something, make sure it happens and that you deliver every time. If you do that, your chances of getting referrals or more business increases by tenfold.”
Kamiyama strives to give back to the community despite his busy schedule and has done volunteer work with the Boarding House Mentors, a surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding program for underserved youth, and for Camp Musubi, a summer program that teaches Nikkei middle school students to preserve their Japanese heritage. The father of a young son and daughter, Kamiyama emphasizes the importance of “being able to balance all of it, not just the career aspect. For me, being an entrepreneur means you have to have a good balance over all.”
“I was kind of a hero on the ship, I had my own TV show [on board] was recognized everywhere I went. It was kind of cool, but the reality is I want to make sure I’m a hero in my home, to my kids, to my wife. If I miss that, I miss everything.”
Kamiyama looks forward to his second voyage on the Oasis later this month. He is also in the planning stages of an Asian restaurant concept aboard the Allure of the Seas, an upcoming sister ship to the Oasis, revamping the dining programs on Royal Caribbean’s Asian cruise lines, and expanding his private catering business.
For more information on Kamiyama, visit kamiyamasushi.com. For a look at Izumi, click here.
- Joanie Harmon