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Stonefish Sushi chef brings rare skills to Cortez table

Chad Ross brings rare sushi skills to table

Stonefish Sushi and More has a fresh face in the kitchen, and he’s bring new dishes and fishes.

Chad Ross moved to the Cortez area from Salt Lake City about a year ago, and soon became a regular customer at Stonefish. But it wasn’t until recently that the restaurant’s owner, Brandon Shubert, found out that Ross was a sushi chef himself. He immediately offered him a job in the hopes that he could help him improve and expand his restaurant’s menu.

Ross moved to Southwest Colorado for his other job, production manager for an event and television production business that has documented sporting events, concerts and other happenings all over the world. One of those gigs took him to Durango, and he decided to stay in the area.

That was a boon to Shubert, who has been looking for a new chef. According to a press release by the restaurant’s public information writer, Sonja Horoshka, “(Stonefish is) not the type of specialty restaurant setting that gets much response from West Coast help-wanted listings.” Shubert didn’t expect to find that expertise in Montezuma County.

“We’d come to a point, in what we were doing at Stonefish, that we were getting a little bit stagnant,” Shubert said. “I was as far as I could go, because I didn’t have the expertise and the skills that this guy brings to the table.”

Shubert has 30 years of experience as a professional chef, but sushi is “way down on (his) skill set list,” he said. Ross was trained in the method from early on in his career and has worked in eight restaurants in 16 years. As a teenager, he learned knife skills while working in a French restaurant in Denver, and later put them to use at Gunnison restaurant that started a weekly sushi night.

He also spent 12 years in Utah, and has trained with sushi chefs like Michael Aguilar-Okumura, of Sushi Maru, in Park City, Utah.

Becoming a sushi chef isn’t just a matter of learning new recipes. Japanese cuisine is so different from other styles that it may take years for chefs to master it.

“Most people don’t know this, but the Japanese, they cut things differently,” he said. “Most of us (chefs) are French-trained. ... It’s a totally different way of cutting vegetables, fish, everything.”

Different fish require different techniques, and Ross’ knowledge of fish preparation is one reason why Shubert was excited to find him. Since Ross’ arrival, the restaurant has experimented with Spanish octopus, spotted prawn and other creatures that might be foreign to most Coloradans’ palates. The octopus was such a hit that Shubert hopes to bring it back more regularly, though Ross said the cephalopod is hard to come by.

Even though he lived in Los Angeles for a while, Ross has spent much of his restaurant career in the Rocky Mountain West, far from an ocean. But he said that never stopped him from getting fresh fish.

“The pure irony is that sometimes you can get fish faster inland than you can on the coast,” he said.

Landlocked restaurants don’t have to deal with crowded fish markets, he said. Instead, Stonefish and other restaurants order fresh fish from companies that fly them out in bulk from the coast within a few hours of the catch.

With his Ross’ help, Shubert plans to roll out an updated menu in a few weeks that includes new fish, sushi rolls and ramen dishes. He’s also looking for a few cooks to help with the change.

Although Shubert is counting on Ross to teach Stonefish staff about their craft, Ross considers himself to be a work in progress. One of his life goals is to make the perfect batch of rice – which is harder than it sounds.

“I’ve been making it for 16 years and never gotten it right,” he said.

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