About the Chef
Owner & Chef, Schuyler Estes, moved to Arizona in 1988, from Danville, Illionis. After attending the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, he began the typical chef’s walk of Valley restaurants, picking up experience and knowledge along the way: Christopher’s Fermier, Cowboy Ciao, Sugar Daddy’s, Jack’s Thai Bar, & Tanked Fish.
When Schuyler Estes was growing up in Danville, Ill., three decades ago, sushi bars were few and far between. Make that next to none.
Pork tenderloins? Sure. Meatloaf? You bet. Raw fish? That was called “bait.”
Estes spent four years studying and practicing before he felt he had mastered the slicing of fish for sashimi and nigiri and tightly wrapping sushi rolls. His passion for sushi and creating fun and inventive menu items, is matched only by his desire to develop exciting and inviting venues, appealing to the local flavor and style.
“I grew up with cornfields and soybeans.”
“I grew up with cornfields and soybeans,” Estes said with a shrug.
It wasn’t until he moved to the Valley in 1998 that he tasted sushi for the first time. He was, as they say, hooked.
Maybe even more surprising for the folks back in Danville is that the hometown boy now owns two acclaimed sushi restaurants. His first Squid Ink Sushi opened in 2010 in Peoria — the Arizona one, not Illinois. A second location at CityScape in downtown Phoenix opened a year ago. Estes, whose first name is pronounced “SKYler,” moved to
Arizona in 1998 to attend the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, now Le Cordon Bleu. After graduation,
he began the typical chef’s walk of Valley restaurants, picking up experience and knowledge along the way: Christopher’s Fermier, Cowboy Ciao, Sugar Daddy’s, Jack’s Thai Bar. The latter, no longer in business, is “where I got my feet wet in Asian cooking,” Estes said. It was at an Ahwatukee sushi bar, Tanked Fish, also now closed, where executive chef Estes learned the art of making sushi. His teachers were Japanese, including the rare female sushi chef, Micki Hudson.
Were the chefs eager to share their secrets? Estes laughed. “I wanted to learn a new trade. I was persistent. I was probably annoying.” He was also the boss.
Sushi in all its forms delighted him as no meatloaf ever had. “I liked the simplicity,” he says. “There are so many flavors that can work together.”
The learning curve on the way to mastering the art, however, was not a short or simple one. A great sushi chef is like a butcher: He or she must know different cuts for different fish, the way to slice a fish so that it has the proper texture. Each fish requires its own technique, cutting with or against the grain, as with beef.
Estes spent four years studying and practicing before he felt he had mastered the slicing of fish for sashimi and nigiri and tightly wrapping sushi rolls.
Then he took a sushi break for two years as a chef at Four Peaks Brewery. He showed his flare with occasional sushi specials, but for the most part his slicing and rolling talents swam under the surface.
Still, a greater adventure always lay in the back of his mind.
“I’d always wanted to have my own place by the tizme I was 30,” Estes said. And he wanted it to be a sushi place.
He and a business partner, Parker Ganem, who owns a Phoenix construction company, began to scout locations. He wasn’t familiar with Peoria neighborhoods, but one day the two men found themselves sitting on West Happy Valley Road watching traffic go by and were impressed by the volume. That became the spot of the first Squid Ink Sushi. The restaurant opened two weeks before Estes’ 30th birthday.