Meet The 26-Year-Old Artist Who Became One Of NYC's Only Female Sushi Chefs


Oona Tempest is on a mission

One thing that you'll quickly notice about chef Oona Tempest is that she uses art analogies when talking about making sushi. While this might seem odd, it's not when you consider her whole cooking ethos: "showcasing food from an artistic standpoint rather than just a culinary." It's also not so strange when you take into account her background.

One of the few female sushi chefs in New York City, Tempest, who is now 26, moved from Massachusetts to New York at the age of 17 to study visual, critical, and multidisciplinary arts at the School of Visual Arts. She discovered her love for making sushi by chance—while covering a waitressing shift at Tanoshi Sushi headed by the late and highly respected chef, Toshio Oguma. By her final year of college, she wanted to be behind the counter. "I saw it as sort of the bridge between being an artist and also having a stable profession, which is not easy when you're in the arts," she says. "I really fell in love with it and begged earnestly to apprentice and, after a lot of persistence, Oguma finally said, 'Okay, you can show up. If you can survive, then you can stay.'"

She wasn't only going to survive, she decided, she was going to excel at the "intensive" training required to become a sushi chef. "In the beginning, I definitely went out and bought every single book on sushi that was available in English—which wasn't a lot in 2014 but I found them all—and scoured the internet," she says. "Every single day, I would wake up and be like, 'What can I learn, so that I can go into work and be a little bit better than I was before?' because every single day you had to be better than you were before."

If that feels like a very academic approach to food, Tempest—who apprenticed with Oguma for several years, before leaving for Sushi Ginza Onodera and Shoji at 69 Leonard Street and now landing at Sushi by Bae—won't deny it. "The shift felt very natural because when you have the art school studio classes, they are very intensive—they're six-hour classes minimum," she says. "When you transfer it over into the world of being a sushi chef, it's actually not that different. When you're working at the sushi bar, especially during service hours, it's about six hours, you're in creative mode the whole time. If you're in a sculpture class for six hours, it's kind of the same thing." It's fitting that she brings up sculpture—not only does the word nigiri (sushi) mean "squeeze by hand," but, as you watch her scoop and lovingly shape the rice for the fish with her hands, you can't help but think of Tempest as a sculptor of sorts.

"I think a lot of chefs are also artists. Cooking with or without fire is a process of creation, so it naturally has a very creative aspect to it," she says. "When I make a piece of sushi, there's a lot I'm thinking about in that short period of time. The first is shape. Your initial knifework on the neta [sliced fish] will determine the ultimate visuality, like making a blueprint." She notes that like with art though, over time, that blueprint might change as a dish is refined or simplified. "You paint something, you don't like it, you scrap it, you paint over it, and only because you still see that faint outline in the background of what you first did, you can see, 'Oh, well I'm going to do it differently this way.'" This plays into her current menu, as it deliberately changes seasonally, but also accidentally when she sometimes has to change the menu last-minute because a delivery she requested can't be fulfilled at the market in Japan, from which she gets fish flown three times a week.

In a more interesting twist, she also compares making sushi to processing prints in a photography dark room. "It all comes down to seconds of time. You leave a print in the chemical for two-seconds too long, it's ruined, and it's the same way when you're marinating fish. It's a weirdly similar kind of skill set," she says. Time is something she encourages her diners to think about too, prompting them to abandon manners and eat each piece of sushi as soon as it lands on their plate, and not to wait for anyone else. While watching Tempest making the sushi, she doesn't seem rushed, but rather incredibly focused. "You can't be too slow but have to be very precise—so you need to get the right balance of rice, and then a correct shape, all with very delicate touches as to not compress the rice too much. It should have air between the grains, so it feels soft when eaten."

In addition to making the sushi, she pickles, cures, and marinates her own garnishes, like ginger that tastes as fresh as spring wildflowers, and she freshly grates wasabi root (which tastes a lot more fragrant yet milder than the paste), and makes her own condiments. "That is where a lot of the magic of the meal comes from. I don't like to use store-bought, ready-made products. It feels like it defeats the purpose if I were to do that. You come to eat at a restaurant to have that chef's food—not something from a bottle," she says. She notes that most sushi chefs will make their own soy sauce. "Depending on the chef's style, they mellow it down with sake and mirin [a sweet cooking sake], sometimes kelp, sometimes katsuobushi [dried bonito shavings], sometimes other things—and steep it like a tea. That's what's being brushed over your sushi. So many flavor complexities come out in that process, and, as a chef, you then have control over the strength of the flavor, salinity, etc."

Those are the sort of things that she hopes to educate diners about, and she will have the opportunity to, as she prepares the food in front of them, on the other side of the six-seat counter. But also, she wants to learn more about their tastes and preferences, noting that the NYC diner's palates have changed recently. "A few years ago, hamachi, tuna, and salmon were the most common or well-known pieces. But now everyone is much more familiar with Japanese fish, like golden eye snapper, silver fishes like mackerel and sardines, and even fish like Shima Aji [striped jack] or Kawahagi [Japanese trigger fish]," she says. And while she does serve bluefin tuna—in fact, three versions of it, ranging from lean to fatty—she is a lot more excited to talk about the melt-in-your-mouth tender Sakura Masu (cherry trout) and needlefish that you want to drape over your finger like a ring, because of its beautiful off-white-silver shade. "I love playing with new kinds of fish, so the shift in demand has definitely allowed for chefs to have more creative freedom."

This extends to other elements as well. For example, when the restaurant first opened during cherry blossom season, Tempest's opening dish consisted of Ishidai, a Japanese knifejaw, wrapped overnight with salted cherry blossom leaves to infuse the flavor and aroma. It was then topped with Irizake, "clear soy sauce" made from salted plums, sake, salt, and kombu (seaweed), and a pinch of plum salt, made from Wakayama salt crystals and plum vinegar. "It's important to me for the opening dish to have a lot of elements that work and play well with each other. They all need to harmonize to give the kind of presentation and feeling I want that first bite of the night to have." Similarly, the meal always ends on something memorable like a buttery bowl of rice topped with quail egg yolk, soy sauce, sake, and yuzu and surrounded by salmon roe.

With three 90-minute seatings a night, Tempest has been able to price the omakase at $110, which is much more affordable than other comparable omakase tastings in NYC. Though, she is quick to recognize (probably because, not so long, she herself was a student on a scholarship who was waitressing to make money) that, even for 15 courses made of fresh fish flown from Japan, it's still not by any means "cheap." But, she says, while "for me, personally, that's not a bargain meal, I really want to make you feel like you spent a lot more than $100 for the experience." With this in mind, she will never compromise on the quality of the ingredients while continuing to make it her mission to come up with other ways to create a high-end omakase at a reasonable price and "do the most" within the time constraints of 90 minutes.

She is no stranger to challenges. As a young, white, female sushi chef, she's had her share of doubts cast on her. "I was definitely doubted a lot in the beginning. I started when I was 20 in the restaurant. There were a lot of jokes. No one really thought I was going to stick around," she says. "I've overcome doubts just by being determined. When I get really passionate about something, I become a bit blind to opinions around me." She credits her mother, who became a single parent after Tempest's father passed away from cancer, for this mode of thinking: "She's so strong and overcame so many obstacles and really gave me an example that you can do what you set your mind to."

Her mentor Oguma, who was Japanese, also encouraged her to pursue her culinary studies. "He had trained all sorts of people of every race and gender in the past over his time in New York City," she says, adding that he didn't care where his students were from as long as they showed respect for his methods and recipes, secrets that she is honored he trusted her with before passing away from cancer last year. "I hold them very close to my heart. Those are really important. They're passed down from his mentor in Japan, so I'm holding onto something that's very old. I wouldn't give it away freely." It's the same memory of him pushing her that encourages her to continue to pursue what she loves doing, regardless what some may have to say: "Oguma brought me up to the counter right away. It's been my spot. I love it, I love it, I'll fight for it. I'll do everything I can to stay there," she says. "I can't change my age, I can't change my gender. It's just going to be me doing my thing, and that's it. It doesn't matter if someone thinks you're adequate or not. You live with yourself every day, more than anyone else, so it's important to have a good relationship with you."

And though Tempest "follows Oguma's style as closely as I can" and is very serious about preserving Japan's traditions, particularly the Edo-era techniques, she's also refreshingly not sensitive about how her food is perceived by others. "I'm still young, I'm not going for a Michelin star... I'm just really trying to work on getting my craft, my art, to a place that I think it can reach, to a place that I want to see it get to. And that can only come with time," she says. "Not everything has to be perfect right now. It can get there."

Spoken like a true artist.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

Courtesy of Adidas

The Stan Smiths are a must-have

Adidas just shared its capsule of sneakers paying tribute to Keith Haring, and TBH I can already feel my wallet emptying (and they're not even on sale yet). The new collection features three shoe silhouettes, all including the late artist's iconic imagery as embroidered designs.

The standout style of the collection is the Rivalry hi-top; with bright blue and orange stripes and piping along the edges, Haring's stars and cartoon bodies, in black thread, pop right off. If you're looking for something less over-the-top, the quirky white Nizza Hi RF sneakers show a snake wrapping around the back of the shoe and chasing one of Haring's cartoon bodies toward the toe. There's also a minimal embroidered design on the toe of a classic Stan Smith pair. Look a little more closely at the tongue though, and you'll notice the traditional image has been swapped with a caricature of Haring himself.

Peep the three silhouettes, below, and set your calendar for the official drop at the end of the month.

Adidas, Rivalry Hi Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Nizza Hi RF Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Stan Smith Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.

Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Hopefully this one will be typo-free

In an Instagram Live on Thursday, Taylor Swift announced that she would be creating a collaboration with fashion designer Stella McCartney inspired by her upcoming Lover album. Although she kept it vague, we can only assume that the two are working on a collection of luxe merch.

Swift noted in the announcement that she has been friends with McCartney "for a really long time," and that the designer already heard the new album. "I respect what she creates, how she creates it," Swift continued. "There's so much whimsy and imagination and romance to the clothing that she designs." Swift has been wearing McCartney's designs "a lot recently," so maybe we should have seen the collab coming.

One eagle-eyed fan pointed out that Swift wore Stella McCartney rainbow-hued shoes during her Wango Tango set. If the collab is anything like these shoes, you can bet I'll be copping it as quick as I can.

Swift detailed in her Instagram Live that the album Lover would be all about romance, which makes McCartney and her feminine designs perfect for the collaboration. We just hope that this collection doesn't have any typos, like some of Swift's "ME!" merch did.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And spreads the message that "we all got crowns"

Late on Thursday, Taylor Swift dropped a new single, "You Need To Calm Down," and announced her forthcoming studio album, Lover, out this August. Following her lead single "ME!" Swift continues to spread her message of self-love and call out haters—particularly the homophobic ones—in this latest song.

Swift "ended homophobic locals," as one fan put it on Twitter, with one particular lyric: "'Cause shade never made anybody less gay."

Along with the song, Swift shared a lyric video via YouTube which made her sentiments even clearer. With her lyric, "Why are you made?/ When you could be glad?" she spelled "glad" as "GLAAD," referencing the queer media advocacy organization.

Swift sings of homophobic protestors in the second verse: "Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Makin' that sign must've taken all night." In the pre-chorus, she adds, "You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/ And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate."

Swift additionally comments on women being pitted against each other—"We see you over there on the internet comparing all the girls who are killin' it"—asserting that "we all got crowns." There's nothing trolls can do to rain on her parade anymore.

One fan pointed out the possible symbolism of the crown lyric. In "Call It What You Want," track 14 on Reputation, she sings "They took the crown but it's alright." Now on "You Need To Calm Down," track 14 of Lover, she sings that there's not just one crown—we all have them.

Some fans are pointing to the double meaning of the track title. If I had a dollar for every time someone said those words to me in a totally condescending way, I'd probably be richer than her! What woman hasn't been told to calm down about an entirely not-calm situation or while expressing their distaste?

During Swift's live stream for the release of the song, she also announced a fashion collaboration with designer Stella McCartney, a peek of which we got during the singer's WangoTango performance.

Lover is set for August 23 release.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

"I was like, 'Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what?'"

The day I meet Jim Jarmusch, the sun hangs so bright and hot and yellow and solid in the sky that it's hard to believe that it will actually set at night. It's one of those New York June days that suggests we might be in permanent daylight; it's got a completely different feeling than the crepuscular atmosphere of Jarmusch's latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which takes place in a small town in what feels like one long twilight, maybe the last one.

But for today, Jarmusch and I are sitting at a table in a sun-filled restaurant, though we're in the shade. We're in a part of the city that used to be very punk rock, and is now very NYU, yet being there with Jarmusch, who looks so at home, like he's holding court in the booth (it helps that Larry Fessenden, an old friend of Jarmusch's and a writer/director/producer/actor, who appears in The Dead Don't Die, happens by the table to say hi), makes the area feel a little punk rock again, even with all the sun.

The Dead Don't Die is a very punk rock zombie movie, by which I mean: It's not very scary, but it is very cool, and even when it's sneering, it's a little bit tender. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as a trio of small-town cops who fight back against a nascent zombie apocalypse caused by fracking, the film is cast with a who's who of Jarmusch regulars, like Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, and Fessenden, to name a few; but it also features younger stars like Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, and Luka Sabbat—and there's a real earworm of a theme song, courtesy of Sturgill Simpson.

Below, I speak with Jarmusch about the movie, being a dilettante, and why he only reads his negative reviews—which is definitely one of the most punk rock things I've ever heard.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images

This was filmed on a pretty condensed shooting schedule, right?
It was a very rough schedule. A very difficult one, actually.

We only had seven weeks to shoot, and we had to shoot Adam Driver out in three weeks because he had to be delivered to Star Wars, and the financing of the film was incredibly grueling and took a long time, so we were pushed so far that we had about one month of prep, and then three weeks with Adam. And then all these different actors coming in and out; I don't know how Carter and Josh, the two producers, organized it all. And then we'd shoot 15-hour days, and halfway through, I had walking pneumonia; I had two coats; it was 95 out; I was shaking. You know, just weird stuff like that. But it's all okay because we had such great people—our crew—everybody. And then, the visual effects were very taxing and complicated.

How did that all work together? Because there's more than one decapitated head.
Yeah, it's a mixture. First of all, we mixed prosthetics with makeup with masks for some of the zombie stuff, but all of those effects with the decapitations, we had to just imagine. So we had to choreograph everything and then only imagine kind of what it would be like, which was, for me, very abstract because I'm not very versed in visual effects. You know, you had to really kind of trust your instincts, because Adam Driver's chopping away with a machete with no blade.

It could've been a machete, it could've been a lightsaber, who knows? So, to what degree is this a sequel of Paterson with Adam Driver's character's last name being Peterson?
Well, I just do these things to amuse myself while writing, you know? Bill Murray in Broken Flowers was named Don Johnson, and in this, I gave him the name Cliff Robertson. Tilda Swinton's character is Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez is named Posie Juarez. You know, I'm just kind of amusing myself.

And Peterson, Paterson. While we were filming Paterson I was always teasing Adam that the next one, we would make was gonna be a sequel about a psychopathic murderous bus driver named Peterson. Tag line: "Get the fuck off my bus!" Or "Next Stop Hell!" You know, stuff like that. It's just to make them... I love trying to make Adam Driver laugh, because he has a very odd and wonderful sense of humor, but it's on the dry side, so I'm always joking around with him between work to try and see what makes him laugh.

But yeah, there's no sequel of any kind, and I don't think that way, and I don't plan, and I don't see my films from the past ever again. I just look toward the next thing.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

What was the original concept for this? When did you start coalescing all of these different elements into knowing that you wanted it to be your next film?
Some years ago after Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda kept teasing me, calling me, saying, "When do we do the zombies? When are we doing the zombies?" And in between I made Paterson and Gimme Danger, but then after those I started writing the zombie one, and my original conception was: I wanna make a film that's really funny and silly like Coffee and Cigarettes, where people talk about whatever nonsense I want them to, and I want to get actors I love, you know? So I thought, okay, if I make a zombie film, I can have a structure where different groups are cordoned off against the zombies, and the zombie attacks will be intermittent and not very long, so I'll have long lags where they're just stuck there, like in the house of The Night of the Living Dead, where they can talk about any kind of nonsense. So that was my first idea, and then when I started writing it, for some reason, I wanted to have a small town, Centerville, and I just followed my intuition, and it became this, I don't really know why beyond that.

What is it about small towns that make them the perfect setting for existential terror?
They're insular. They're kind of… everyone kind of knows each other. It's controllable by the characters. It's believable that everyone kind of know each other. I don't know. I'm not very good at analyzing that. And also, this is not a horror film because horror films use devices that are necessary to frighten people, like suspense, and then you get scared. We have no interest whatsoever in that. This is more of a metaphorical zombie film, but I would not call it a horror movie. It's a comedy with zombies with a kind of sad ending. Beyond that, I don't know what it is.

And horror nerds may not like it if they're expecting creepy, creepy, scary thing! They're not gonna get it. They're not gonna get that delivered to them.

What's interesting about it is seeing who fights back against this existential dread. Or, like, Chloë Sevigny's character, Mindy, doesn't fight, she is on her own separate trip, avoiding the end till she embraces it.
It's a character film. It's not even a plot film, really, although critics say that about all my films. But Chloë… it's a complicated thing, because when I first called Chloë, I told her... I wrote her a letter, and then she said, "Yeah, yeah I'd like to do this." And I said, obviously, this is not a feminist character. She's reactive. She's our sort of "Scream Queen." She screams like six times. But Chloë is the master of reaction, and I love watching her react.

She definitely feels like a stand-in for what a normal person would feel during these absurdist experiences, which is nice to have. It's not necessarily that you need a relatable character in a movie like this, but...
Yeah, but she's an empathetic human that's in a job with some authority, but in a small town where that means taking care of whatever, you know, as a police officer, pretty minimal [stuff]. There's not a lot of rampant crime or anything going on… or anything at all, really.

Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

A lot of people are going to be projecting tons of different meanings onto this film, like with all your films. To what level do you participate in that or pay attention to that? Or, once you're done making a film, is it just out there, and you just let people project onto it whatever they will?
I've always felt that anyone's interpretation of a film that I write and direct is probably more valid than my own. Because it's a funny thing, the beauty of films is going into a world—or a book or whatever—but going into a world that you don't know, and you are entering a world, and it takes you. And if you wrote it, and you were there filming it, and you're in the editing room every day for six months, the mix, and all that... I can never possibly see it. I like hearing what friends or people I know... I like Q and As after screenings because they have no agenda except their interest. I like that a lot, and I value that. I don't really like to read a lot of reviews unless they're really negative. I love the negative ones.

You do?
Yeah, because they must be very far from me in their perception of the world, and that is interesting to me. But I try not to read a lot...

I think you're probably the first person who I've ever spoken to who says they like to read the negative reviews.
I really like them. The worst one I ever got in my life, I laminated and used to carry in my wallet. It was a brief thing from a right-wing French [paper], maybe Le Figaro or something, of a film called Dead Man that we made, and they said—this is the English translation—"The French intelligence celebrates Jarmusch in the way death and blind parents would celebrate their retarded child. Jarmusch is 33 years old, the same age as Christ when he was crucified. We can only hope the same for his film career." I was like, Whoa! That is harsh! I'm keeping that one!

It gets personal.
But that was vicious. I was like, Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what? What happened? It was really... the knife was sharpened, you know.

That speaks to a very specific kind of agenda for sure.
A friend of mine Amos Poe, he's sort of a mentor of mine, a punk filmmaker, whatever, and when we were young when he made, in the late-'70s, one of his films—The Foreigner or Unmade Beds—the New York Times called it "the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten scribbling," and he put that on his posters and put "New York Times" and we were like punks, we were like, "Yes! Amos! That's great!"

I mean, it genuinely is a pretty great pull quote, and I think also a little bit oblivious to the charms of a kindergartener's scribbles and what the value is in that anyway.
Yeah, it was kind of accurate in a positive way, and they intended it as very negative.

In this film, there are so many actors who are veteran actors, but there are also a lot of younger actors. What do you like about the combination of that dynamic?
I just like the variety of sort of world perceptions—indicated in a very minor way when Bill Murray's character says, "I've known Hermit Bob since we were in junior high," and Adam's character says, "Oh, wow! That must've been like 50 years ago!" And Bill says, "Yeah. It was." But just the kind of difference of perception of age I find as I get older really interesting. And I'm very interested in young people, especially teenagers, because I think they form our sense of style, of music, of so many things, and yet they're kind of pushed around and treated badly and constantly told, "You don't know how the world really works! You're just a teenager!" But they gave us poetry. They gave us Mary Shelley and Rimbaud and chess masters, and all the great music comes a lot from teenagers. So I tried to keep a pulse, that's why the three teenagers, I would not let them turn into zombies. There are only four people [who don't get turned by zombies]: those three that are delinquents, and the Tom Waits character, who's already removed himself from the social order long before.

When the zombies become zombies, they all have one inciting thing that they're still pursuing in the real world. Do you have one thing that you think you would pursue if you were a zombie?
You know, it's hard because I'm a self-proclaimed dilettante. I'm interested in so many things, I don't know if I would be breaking into a bookstore, or if I would be in the alley outside of a movie theater, or if I would be trying to get into a guitar shop. I'm not sure. I have a lot of interests.

I mean there's a way in which it's a really tender portrayal of the human impulse to just seek out these things that they love.
It's not totally a critique; it's their vestigial memory of some things that they were drawn toward, whether it was power tools or oxycontin.

The Dead Don't Die is in theaters now.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features