Tyson Cole will tell you that his early memories of food were far from exotic. He grew up in Florida with typical suburban fare and didn’t crave anything beyond spaghetti and sandwiches. After heading to Texas for school and finding himself unable to pay for his classes at the University of Texas, Student Cole needed a job, and fast. After days of pavement pounding, he finally ended up with a dishwashing job at Kyoto. He admits that before he took the job he had never even tried sushi. But once he did, he was hooked, and not just on sushi, but on Japanese culture and language.
Cole educated himself on every aspect of the cuisine. Even surprising himself with his skill and dexterity with the knife, he quickly worked his way from dishwasher to head sushi chef. Cole then moved to Austin’s top sushi restaurant at the time, Musashino, where he completed an intensive traditional apprenticeship under owner Takehiko Fuse. The two spent time in Japan, where Cole experienced the food and culture while gaining technical skill.
Fuse challenged him to learn the Japanese language, which helped Cole learn more about the cuisine. Staging at restaurants like Bond Street gave him insight into running an intensely busy restaurant with razor sharp execution. He spent a final year at Musashino, experimenting with new ideas about flavors, influences and ingredients, often running the restaurant in Fuse’s absence.
In May of 2003, Uchi opened with Cole as Executive Chef and co-owner. Cole’s seamless blending of global ingredients with traditional Japanese flavors to create his celebrated “perfect bite” gained him local, regional and national attention and Uchi soon became one of the top fine dining destinations in Austin. The accolades continued when he was awarded a coveted spot on Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005 list. In May 2011, Cole received a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest. Cole celebrated a James Beard Foundation Semi-Finalist nod for Outstanding Chef in 2016.
“Ingredients and flavors from all over the world are easily accessible now,” Cole says. “The food we create is playfully multi-cultural, combining Japanese traditions with unexpected.”
Cole opened his second restaurant in Austin, Uchiko, in July 2010 and celebrated the release of Uchi the Cookbook in March 2011. In 2012, he opened an Uchi in Houston, Uchi Dallas in June 2015, and a new concept, Top Knot, in Dallas in February 2016. In 2015 what was formerly known as Uchi Restaurant Group changed its name to Hai Hospitality, a sign of the evolution of the brand and the path ahead.
While awards and accolades have accumulated through the years, he relishes in deflecting praise in the direction of his talented team, some of whom have been with Uchi since the beginning. “There is no Uchi, no Hai Hospitality in fact, without this team. Their talent and ideas have made this collaboration that is Hai Hospitality so successful,” offers Cole. As Hai Hospitality grows, he relishes in the talented team that has made it all possible and remains grateful that his detour into Kyoto to wash dishes led him down this extraordinary path. One which inevitably leads to the perfect bite.