Born in Tokyo in 1977, Gene Kato immigrated to the United States with his family in 1980 and settled in North Carolina. Raised in a family where cooking was a way of life, Kato learned the basic skills and techniques of traditional Japanese cooking from his mother, a skilled home cook who made such long-established Japanese dishes as tempura, udon nabe and tsukemono; his grandfather had owned a sushi bar. Kato knew early on he wanted to cook professionally, and, after receiving his Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC, he apprenticed in Japan for a year.
In Japan Kato honed his knowledge of Japanese cuisine and learned to appreciate the fundamentals on which all Japanese cuisine is built – technique and flavor. In addition to the highly-skilled chefs he trained under in Japan, Kato cites the renowned Joel Robuchon as an inspiration, noting “the greatness of a cook can be measured by his or her ability to work magic with the simplest of ingredients,” a quality Robuchon exemplifies.
Upon returning to the States, Kato worked as Chef de Cuisine at Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and then was named Chef de Cuisine for the multi-unit concept Upstream, based in Charleston, SC. While in the Carolinas, Kato was exposed to French and Southern cuisine, expanding his knowledge of flavors, ingredients, and cooking styles, while at the same time, never forgetting his roots.
While at Upstream, Kato met Miae Lim, and the two agreed to launch Ohba together. With his success at Ohba, Lim enthusiastically brought Kato to the Japonais team.