Tampa Bay’s Best Dish: Spicy Tuna Bowl
The Wine Exchanges Executive Chef, James “Jamie” Schlueter, selects the spicy tuna bowl from Sakana
How did you get started as a chef?
I got started with a friend whose father was a chef at a country club in New Jersey. I was just a 15-year-old kid and it just kind of caught on from there. I started as a dishwasher and busboy. I’ve done pretty much every position in a restaurant.
What was your first cooking job?
I worked in an Italian restaurant at a hotel in Jersey. I was 16-years-old and I started out as a prep cook. It was a small, mom-and-pop Italian restaurant but it was one of the busiest in the town where I lived.
When did you come down to Florida?
I moved down here in 1990. I worked at a few different places. I worked in the GTE building and ran the kitchen there. I went out to Apollo Beach and cooked there. I also worked for a couple other places like Jimmy Mac’s, it was a popular burger place in South Tampa, and the Proud Lion Pub up in North Tampa. And then I came to the Wine Exchange in August of 1993.
What was the Wine Exchange like when you started?
When I first started it was sweet breads and stuff like that. Back in ’93, people in South Tampa weren’t too privy to sweet breads and cow brains and some of the other things that had on the menu before I got there. I knew that it wasn’t successful at the time and he had another three years left on the lease and if it wasn’t turned around, I would have been looking for another job.
How would you describe the menu you created?
I wanted to create food that people would enjoy. I knew the other stuff wasn’t working. They had tried that for two and a half years and it wasn’t working. The food now is eclectic, with a little Greek, Italian and Cuban. It’s all fresh, everything is made to order. I do the food and our sommelier pairs it with various wines.
What’s your signature dish?
Only thing on the menu for 20 years is the chicken pecan salad and the grape pecan pizza. Those have been on almost since the beginning.
When was the first time you came to Sakana?
I like right down the street from here and I really like fresh sushi. They’re different here and not just the standard. It’s fresh and it’s creative sushi. This is healthy and similar to Hawaiian poke. It’s uncooked, fresh tuna. This is just a little different than the Hawaiian poke that I make at the Wine Exchange.
What’s one food you wont’ eat?
Cow’s brain or salmon. It’s too oily of a fish for me. I’ve eaten it but it’s not my thing.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Sweets, specifically ice cream
Spicy Tuna Bowl
Chunks of tuna, mango, avocado and toasted pine nuts in a spicy sesame sauce
Sakana is located at 2908 Gandy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33629. For more information, call 813-83-(Sushi) or visit www.SakanaTampa.com.