Food | MArch 2017
Memphis’ latest sushi chef rolls out creative cuisine in newly-opened Midtown Memphis digs
Story by Doug Gillong | Photos by Casey Hilder
Jimmy Sinh knows what sushi tastes like.
Sinh, the 27-year-old owner and operator of Sushi Jimmi, a two-year old food truck business soon opening its first brick and mortar location, doesn’t need to smell a roll, take a look at it or put any of it in his mouth. If he knows what’s in it, he knows the taste.
“I think that comes from growing up with my mom,” Sinh says. “She used to feed me things and ask me what was in it or what was not in it, then I’d guess and she would tell me what I got right.”
He’s Beethoven of the battera, using knowledge and experience to compose new sushi rolls and fusion flavor combinations that have most of Memphis clamoring to eat raw fish from a truck.
It’s a strange thing to have sushi — food’s most elegant art form — being ordered, prepared and handed out the window of a truck in nondescript to-go packaging. But under the squeak of styrofoam tabs from a Sushi Jimmi order lies a remarkable visual and gustatory presentation that looks as if it came straight from an influencer’s Instagram page. “It’s important for the food to look good,” Sinh says. “I like the art of it.”
This past Februrary, Sinh brought the art of Valentine’s Day to Sushi Jimmi customers, offering a special “Valentine’s Roll” of rice, seaweed, snowcrab mix and avocado rolls shaped into half-hearts and draped with thick, fresh red tuna slices. The half hearts were laid flat to make whole hearts, and topped with a dab of Sriracha sauce and sprinkled with fish eggs. “It looks good for the cameras and it’s fun to make,” Sinh says. “But the most important is the taste.”
Sinh’s signature rolls take both into account. Towering, two-to-three inch high titans of taste and flavor, Jimmy’s signature rolls, like the Batman or the Shaggy Dog, easily feed one person while combining ten or more flavors into the experience.
The Los Angeles, or “L.A.” roll, clocks in at 12 ingredients (not including rice and seaweed) and is matched only by the “Godzilla” fried roll for sheer variety. The LA’s impressive combination is able to include sweet, spicy, sticky, crunchy and even a little bit of gooey into each section, and, amazingly, the gigantic roll maintains its shape while being eaten. It’s almost as if the roll’s supernatural cooperation of flavors extends to its physical makeup.
Jimmi invented the LA years ago while working at Red Fish, and brought it with him everywhere he went since. It only recently got a name.
“I named it the L.A. because it reminded me of where I grew up,” Sinh says. “In [Los Angeles] you would have all kinds of cultures and people and food, Hispanic, Asian, African American, Indian, and they were all in the same place and all mixing together.”
Sinh grew up in California, one of six children born to parents who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam.
“We used to be famers, and fishermen too,” Sinh says. “We know what makes a good fish, and what makes a fresh vegetable.”
Sinh’s family moved to Memphis during his teenage years, but the influence of Los Angeles never waned. Sinh took this with him through ten years of restaurant jobs at places like Benihana, Nagasaki, Wasabi and Red Fish. Sinh learned his craft and quickly gained a reputation as one of the best and most inventive sushi chefs in the bluff city.
In 2015, Sinh, along with his family, introduced his food truck to Memphis — and sold out of suhi in about 90 minutes.
“One of the problems that day was we didn’t have enough rice,” Sinh says. “So we couldn’t make the rolls, so that’s kind of how we started with the crawfish nachos.”
Spicy Crawfish Nachos are one of Sushi Jimmi’s fusion staples, part of a menu that regularly includes Japanese Tacos, Kimchi Fries and, on occasion, the Seoul Dog - a hot dog with Kimichi and Pico de Gallo. These, of course are separate from the six-variety Sushi Burrito portion of the menu.
“Fusion is when you take two or three things that are very different and you combine them together, to make something new,” Sinh says.
Sinh’s family cooking background, his sushi-sense of taste combinations, and his natural propensity for innovation, has enabled his truck to succeed past the first day.
Social media accounts, Twitter and Facebook, allowed Sinh and his crew to let Memphis know where they would be everyday, and what they would be serving.
“Most people don’t even need a website anymore,” Sinh says, “when you can get all this stuff on social media for free.”
This roving, socially powered business grew for two years, earning Sinh a place in the Memphis Flyer’s 20>30 list, and saw him named Thrillist’s Memphis Chef of the Year for 2016.
Now, Sushi Jimmi, while still operating the food truck, will open his first brick and mortar location at an old Wendy’s in east Memphis, on Poplar Ave. near the main Library. The restaurant is “a month or two away” from opening, by Sinh’s estimation, and will include a sushi bar, a sake bar, and much of the same fusion and sushi menu Memphis has fallen in love with.
Big, photo-ready rolls filling up full sheets of seaweed, not the half-sheets most places use, and on plates this time.
Plates at tables with customers whom Jimmy can politely ask if “everything is tastingalright,” Even though he already knows.