San Francisco takes its sushi seriously, whether it’s spicy tuna maki to-go, a hefty sushirrito, or a Michelin-starred omakase. While the city’s top sashimi slingers are flying in fresh fish from Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market, others are working with local fishers and regional commercial fishing operations to find the perfect specimens.
Yet among the city’s sushi chefs, one man has taken a more rustic approach by foraging and fishing for ingredients along the coast, breaking out his knife kit, and making lunch right on the beach.
On his YouTube channel Outdoor Chef Life, Taku Kondo takes his audience on a tour of California’s beaches and rocky coastline to learn how to sustainably source seafood straight from the ocean — as opposed to flown in from a Tokyo fish market.
One day he might catch, boil, and butter Dungeness crab on the shore with surfers catching waves in the background. Other times, while folks on a busy pier cast nets to bag herring, Kondo waits patiently for low tide to harvest seaweed covered in herring eggs. Or he’ll explore a low-tide zone, flipping boulders to uncover clams, rock crab, and octopus for ceviche back home.
“It’s amazing how many things you can find that are edible right out on the coast, just a short distance from the city,” Kondo said. “My goal [with the channel] is just to have fun, inspire people to give fishing and foraging for their own food a shot.”
Today, Outdoor Chef Life now boasts more than 200,000 subscribers; yet Kondo’s connection to the sea had a simple start.
Kondo first started fishing with his father in Japan when he was around 5 years old. “We’d usually go for largemouth bass; did a little ocean fishing here and there, but nothing crazy,” he said. After moving to California a few years later, Kondo continued fishing with his uncle, going out for trout, largemouth bass, or surfperch.
As he began fishing on his own as a teen, he also started helping out more in the kitchen. His mother worked in the restaurant industry, so Kondo would regularly be in charge of plating a dish his mother prepared or cooking for his younger siblings.
It wasn’t until college that these childhood habits evolved into a passion and, soon after, a career. While studying kinesiology at San Francisco State University with the ultimate goal of working as a physical therapist, Kondo started cooking to avoid the high cost of dining out in San Francisco.
“I love finding and eating good food, but I couldn’t afford to eat like that in the city,” he said. “So I started to learn how to cook my favorite dishes at home, cut those costs, and enjoy myself without paying too much.”
Eventually, Kondo was drawn to a copy of “The Bay Area Forager,” a guide to identifying and responsibly harvesting wild plants in the area. “I got in the habit of just taking walks in the area and scouting for edible plants,” he said. “It was cool to be able to recognize plants — be able to tell which ones would be a good addition to a salad and which would make you sick.”
Kondo eventually grew comfortable harvesting easily identifiable plants like miner’s lettuce, nasturtium, sour grass, blackberries, and wild radishes, mostly munching on them raw as a trail snack.
“I’ve made couple dishes like a nasturtium salad with blackberry vinaigrette or spring rolls,” Kondo said. “Definitely one of my favorite ones to pick are the wild radish seed pods. Delicious little things. They sort of look like a little chile pepper, but you bite into it and you get that delicious little radish kick. “
After a few years of harvesting strictly vegetation, Kondo shifted to the coast. “The coast is where I could find protein — crabs, mussels, clams, octopus — it opened up a whole new world once I realized I could go harvest from the ocean,” he said.
Around that time, Kondo graduated and was working at a physical therapy clinic. But just a year in, he abandoned that path and sought a job as a sushi chef after falling in love with seafood foraging and the knifework aspect of cooking.
He managed to convince the kitchen at Hinata, a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco’s Van Ness district specializing in omakase, to give him a shot. He worked for a free there for a month to prove himself and learn the basics from experienced chefs, working as a Postmates courier to make ends meet.
“It was an amazing opportunity to learn the ins and outs of being a chef, to make sure it’s something I really wanted to do,” Kondo said. “ I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by talented chefs who taught be correctly the first time around.”
Foraging was a weekend hobby, but found ingredients started making their way into the professional kitchen, where Kondo would impress customers with his hyperlocal fare, occasionally gifting free dishes including fresh uni and different varieties of seaweed.
“One of the most unique things I was able to offer my customers at the restaurant was herring roe,” Kondo said. “Herring come into the bay to spawn every year and lay a ton of eggs. So I was able to harvest them and marinate it in a soy-based sauce. They have the crunchiest eggs of any fish and it’s very unique.”
Inspired by his customers' reactions and encouraged by a handful of related YouTube ventures, Kondo decided to start filming his foraging trips to the coast. His videos quickly attracted fans who were hooked by Kondo’s laid-back attitude and storytelling style.
As he navigates the slick rocks at low tide, Kondo narrates his journey — spotting the quickest glimpse of a crab scuttling under a boulder, explaining the best techniques for harvesting sea urchin, and giving beach-cooking 101 lessons with a beautiful coastal backdrop.
Through support from the Outdoor Chef Life audience and a handful of Patreon supporters, Kondo made the decision this fall to quit his full-time chef position and focus on growing his video content on YouTube.
To expand his work, Kondo is aiming to increase collaboration in San Francisco’s seafood sphere, bringing in chefs, fishers, and food lovers to feature in videos. One of his goals is to launch an Iron Chef-style cooking competition series that pits two experts against each other in a race to forage and fish for ingredients, then pull them together into a delicious dish.
While keeping his audience entertained is a must, Kondo is also using his platform to educate viewers on what sustainable harvesting looks like and encouraging people to cook for themselves.
“I’m really happy whenever I see a comment saying they learned a new filleting technique, or now they know how to take seaweed responsibly,” Kondo said. “I’ve shared a lot with these videos, but I’ve also learned a lot. When it comes to foraging, cooking, or anything really, you can learn something new from everyone you meet.”