Meet the Female Sushi Chef Who Shattered the Glass Ceiling
27-year-old Oona Tempest is one of just a few female sushi chefs in the field. But her success hasn't always been linear.
As one of the few female sushi chefs, Oona Tempest had to work twice as hard to land her spot as the powerhouse behind Sushi by Bae in New York.
During the rigorous training to become a sushi chef—especially as an American woman in a field dominated by Japanese men—Tempest, 27, was clocking more than 90 hours a week. While she was busy breaking down barriers, she was also unknowingly battling an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease—in which the body attacks the thyroid gland. She struggled with fatigue and muscle and joint pain—a testament to her tenacity. “I felt exhausted all the time,” says Tempest. “But I kept going.”
Once she was diagnosed with the condition, the chef had to overhaul her diet and become gluten-free. That experience became the backbone of Tempest’s MO for Sushi by Bae: Eat to feel good.
“As a chef, it’s my job to nourish guests—both from a hospitality perspective and by using the best-sourced ingredients,” says Tempest. The inspiration behind her flavors, though, comes from the ocean, which she grew up near while living on the coast in Massachusetts.
These days she eats her big meals at Sushi by Bae, which opened last year. At home, however, she ditches her chef ’s apron and keeps things simple; working 14-hour shifts doesn’t give her much time to cook up elaborate dishes.
“If I’ve got only pantry ingredients, I make miso soup,” says Tempest. “I always have the three staples that are the base for the broth: miso paste, kombu, and katsuobushi, or bonito flakes. I keep the kombu steeped in cold water in my fridge; cold brewing it prevents bitter flavor. I grate daikon radish into the soup and add a seaweed called wakame. To make it feel like a meal, I throw in mushrooms, particularly enoki, which are crunchy.”
Otherwise, she’ll toss seasonal vegetables with some good Italian extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper—that simple prep “lets their natural favors shine through,” says Tempest. It’s fast, healthy, and delicious for a weeknight. “That’s what I crave now,” she says. “A big bowl of vegetables or fish over rice."
Shape Magazine, January/February 2020 issue