Chef Yuhi Fujinaga has been with Delaware North and Patina Restaurant Group for more than 10 years. Now, as director of culinary for Patina Orlando, he oversees eight restaurants at Disney Springs and EPCOT at Walt Disney World: Morimoto Asia, Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, Enzo’s Hideaway & Tunnel Bar, The Edison, Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria, Tutto Italia, Pizza Ponte and Space 220.
When did you start with Delaware North, and how have your roles evolved?
My career with Patina Restaurant Group began in 2003 at Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center in New York City. I came back to Sea Grill as the executive chef from 2012 until 2017, when I became the executive chef at Morimoto Asia. I was recently promoted to my current role as the director of culinary for Patina Orlando. I have enjoyed every moment of it and am fortunate to be a part of Delaware North.
How has being a mentor in the company’s CHEFS® program influenced your career?
Many of my great mentors taught me about the passion of cooking and sharing that with others. The CHEFS (Culinary & Hospitality Excellence for Future Success) program is a collection of very talented emerging culinarians and executive chef mentors in our company who are all looking for development and growth. For myself, I have always been passionate about sharing “food for thought” and teaching others in the kitchen.
Tell us about your new role overseeing several high-quality, high-profile restaurants.
One of the biggest challenges is making sure I am available to every unit and being able to keep myself engaged with the teams. Just when you thought your previous restaurant was big with all of the team members, try multiplying that by eight!
What is your favorite part about working with/being a part of our culinary talent?
I am very fortunate to be working with a very talented group of chefs from all over the world. It’s my pleasure and excitement to work with them to see different views and ways to solve the daily challenges we face. Who else gets to work with chefs from Italy, Germany, Japan, Mongolia, the Bahamas, New York and Maryland every day?
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Month. How has being an Asian American influenced your career and perspective on life?
Being born in Japan and raised in Hawaii, it was always in my culture to be a part of the hospitality field. When I first started as a server at a ramen shop in Hawaii, I realized I’d rather be cooking ramen than serving it. My grandmother told me I needed to learn how to cook cuisine from my own heritage first before learning others. I did traditional Japanese cuisine for two years, then moved right into American seafood, French fine dining, Northern Spanish (Basque), and made my way back to modern American seafood and back to the roots of Asia. Learning the foundations of Japanese cuisine really helped me in my career with strong knife skills and a very delicate palette.