BOYSTOWN — Yoshi Katsumura, chef and owner of Yoshi's Cafe, died Sunday at 65 after a one-and-a-half-year battle with cancer, friends said.
Katsumura was a celebrated chef in Boystown and throughout the city, with the Tribune once naming him "one of the longest-enduring, under-the-radar chefs in Chicago." His death was first reported Monday by Opus Chicago.
Since opening Yoshi's Cafe with his wife, Nobuko, in 1982, Katsumura has been named one of America's Outstanding Chefs and received a smattering of accolades, including two AAA Four Diamond and Zagat awards.
Over the span of 33 years, Yoshi's Cafe, 3257 N. Halsted St., offered a "singular" fusion of Asian and French cuisine like his Japanese black pork or Wagyu steak bento dinners. Choose Chicago profiled Katsumura in 2014.
"I don't remember the last 31 years — I was too busy cooking in the kitchen. I didn't have a chance to go outside," Katsumura joked in the video.
Katsumura got his start cooking at age 20 with an apprenticeship under Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai in Tokyo and also studied in France, according to Chicago Gourmet. He moved to Chicago in 1973, working with Jean Banchet at Le Français and partnering at Jimmy's Place.
But it's his kindness and love for Boystown that friend Stu Zirin will miss the most.
"He was a great man and a great friend. He was one of the most talented people I've met. He was gracious and giving," Zirin told DNAinfo Chicago. After years of eating at Yoshi's, Zirin said he and Katsumura developed a friendship, with Katsumura going so far as to taste the menu at Zirin's Dive Bar before it opened.
"He didn't see it as a competitor, he saw it as helping a friend," said Zirin, who added that Katsumura also served on the board of the Northalsted Business Alliance for years.
Katsumura will leave his mark on Boystown in more ways than one; a sign designating Aldine east of Halsted "Yoshi Katsumura Way" remains next to his restaurant. Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) sponsored the renaming in April 2014.
"You always leave a light on for your family, and that's exactly how Yoshi treated his staff and everyone who came into Yoshi's Cafe over the last 33 years, like family," Tunney said on Facebook. "Let's help the family keep the light on for Yoshi as he did so many nights for us."
Other politicians also reflected on Katsumura's life in reaction to the news of his death.
"Loretta and I have lost a dear friend and one of Chicago's premier restauranteurs in the passing of Yoshi Katsumura. Beyond a great friend, Yoshi was a great person," wrote Sen. Dick Durbin, who claimed Yoshi's as his "neighborhood favorite."
Loved ones said Katsumura's final wish was for "the legacy of the tremendous employees and customers of Yoshi's Cafe (to) continue on for many years to come."
A memorial service at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 will take place at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee St. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Katsumura's name to pediatric services at the Swedish Covenant Hospital, 5145 N. California Ave.
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