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Meet the owners of two metro Detroit restaurants up for James Beard Foundation Awards

Posted at 6:39 PM, Apr 05, 2024

(WXYZ) — Two metro Detroit restaurants are getting national recognition. They are up for prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards which honors restaurant owners and chefs excelling in the culinary field.

One of the restaurants being recognized is Sozai in Clawson.

 The restaurant owner and head chef of Sozai, Hajime Sato, is up for the “Best Chef: Great Lakes” award.

“What’s unique about this restaurant is called Omakase which is, basically, chef’s choice so you, basically, sit down and I ask you some things and I start making some food for you," Chef Sato opened Sozai Restaurant nearly three years ago.

 He said the goal was to bring traditional Japanese cuisine to metro Detroit.

“One of the things we specialize in is… is sushi side and if you go to the kitchen side simply grilled fish with a miso glaze, stuff like that,” said Chef Sato.

Chef Sato learned to cook as a kid from his grandmother. 

Now years later, he is a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award that honors chefs who have great culinary skills and leadership abilities.

“Yes it is important that I am recognized, but more importantly that I do a good job did I recognize the customers, maybe the customer like a touch different flavor that way then I can do that next time they come in,” said Sato.

Sozai isn’t the only restaurant getting some attention from the James Beard Foundation.

The owners of Baobab Fare in Detroit are finalists for the “Outstanding Restaurateur” award.

“It’s amazing, it’s amazing, we are so humbled, grateful, incredibly happy,” said Nadia Nijimbere-Mamba, owner, Baobab Fare.

Nijimbere- Mamba with her husband, Mamba Hamissi three years ago.

Baobab Fare chef wins 'Chopped,' tells immigration story

“We didn’t even know what we were doing when we started, you ask me where you’re going to be in three years, we didn’t answer you,” said Nijimbere-Mamba. “The success was so fast.”

The couple give metro Detroiters a taste of their home country of Burundi.

WATCH: Customers react to the experience at Baobab Fare

Customers react to experience at Baobab Fare

“I like how people say oh I was Googling, I was looking where’s Burundi… so people say I’ve traveled to Africa, they want to come try the food,” said Nijimbere- Mamba.

Back to Chef Sato, he says he is so happy two Detroit area restaurants that serve international cuisines are being put in the national spotlight.

“All the other cuisine has so many different importance as a culture and preserve it but at the same time sharing with the people here, that is so exciting to me,” said Sato.

The winners of the James Beard Awards will be announced on June 10th at a ceremony in Chicago.