There are some fish distributors in town who don't really want to talk to or do business with Nick George, aka Dr. Sushi, the chef behind the Dr. Sushi pop-up.
Instead of just buying fresh fish, carving it up, and serving it, Dr. Sushi first asks lots of questions: "Where was it caught? How was it caught? What time of year? Was it caught in the wild or harvested?"
"I'm really annoying when it come to talking to fish companies," he says. "I burned my bridge with Superior asking them about how fish I wanted was caught. They ended up being so curt with me that I don't even mess with them anymore."
At other times, communication is a challenge, like when he buys from the fishmongers at 168 Asian Mart — who offer some of the area's best fish, but only speak Mandarin.
So it goes as the first Michigan chef to trade in sustainable fish, but George says it's worth it. Simply put, he's an environmentalist, and overfishing is depleting the world's fish stocks. For example, about 95 percent of the world's bluefin tuna population is gone.
"I think it would be irresponsible for someone to serve fish that's being harvested at a rate that exceeds its respawn rate. I care about healthy ecosystems. Most sushi bars still serve bluefin and it drives me crazy, so I can't," he says. "I love eel (unagi) so much that I have sworn it off until they figure out a way of conserving these populations and keeping healthy fish stocks, and I practice what I preach."
It's a very unusual and progressive philosophy for someone in Michigan, but then George was always sort of an unusual guy. While most teenage boys are into something like baseball, George developed a healthy sushi obsession by the time he was 15 years old, and became a regular at Clawson's Noble Fish, which is considered one of the area's best sushi shops.
"I think I wanted to be different, and the things that I was into were different. I was kind of like a weird kid," George laughs. But he suspects that his love of food developed out of his associations with big family events at which — as a kid — he ate tons of good food and hung out with his cousins.
Eventually, George started working at Noble Fish, learned the craft, and began rolling and cutting fish for friends and family until landing a job teaching a sushi class. In the next step, he placed a Craigslist ad as a sushi chef for hire, and his first event was such a smash hit that he and a friend who helped out realized they were on to something.
And that's when Dr. Sushi — the company and the persona — was born.
"I brought a friend and he was extra geeked. He said, 'I can't believe we just did that! We should really start this business! You should call it Dr. Sushi!' Then I couldn't think of anything else, so it stuck," George says.
These days, Dr. Sushi regularly holds noodle-based and izakaya-style pop-ups at Nancy Whiskey's and PJ's Lager House in Corktown, and keeps busy with private catering events and classes. To try his sushi, you'll have to book him for a party, because he isn't crazy about the idea of rolling raw fish at dive bars.
"I could serve sushi out of them and keep people safe, but there's something about the vibe and I don't want to do it there," he says. "I'm available for hire. Most of my sushi business is catering and setting up at private parties, though once in awhile I'll find a place and do a one-off."
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