Minoru Suzuki is still in a state of shock, with his 80-year-old mother and several aunts and uncles still missing after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsumani hit his native Japan this past Friday.
Suzuki, 56, just hired on as a new chef at in Jamesport. He is a career Japanese Kaiseki chef who grew up in Tohoku, the area where the tsunami hit the hardest four days ago. Rick Takemoto, a Greenport resident and vice president of international marketing for Jedediah Hawkins Inn, asked Suzuki to work at the B&B to help beef up the Japanese cuisine on the menu.
After a stint taking care of some medical procedures and visiting friends and family in Japan, Suzuki flew out to the New York this past Thursday — one day before the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan — to start his new job.
“It was the last flight out of Narita International Airport before the quake hit,” Takemoto said.
Suzuki said he has yet to hear from or find out the whereabouts of his 80-year-old mother, Yasuko, who was staying in the city of Akita in Tohoku when the tsunami hit. His 80-year-old father, Hamao, is alive and safe in Yokohama, Suzuki said, but he has not heard from several aunts and uncles.
“Communication is hard,” Takemoto said. “The best way to communicate is through Facebook and Twitter, but even on the Internet it’s hard to get more than just information at this point.”
Suzuki’s mother communicated only via phone on a landline, Takemoto added.
“It’s still very country out there,” he said. “It’s hard for Minoru to contact his loved ones. He’s trapped in a foreign country and feels very helpless. He’s in shock right now.”
Speaking mostly Japanese through the translations of Takemoto early Monday afternoon, Suzuki — who is single and “married to his job,” he said — opened up about his helpless situation.
He described how he found out about the earthquake in the middle of the night while he was still in flight to the states.
“I found out on the Internet, and it was horrifying,” he said. “I sent emails to friends and got no responses back.”
Suzuki said he wants badly to go back but has accepted the fact that there is not much he can do, with the airport in his native region wiped out and Narita airport in Tokyo closed to flights at this point.
“Even if he wants to go back, he can’t,” Takemoto said.
To express his want to help even in a dire emotional state, Suzuki said he wants to get ready to work and is looking forward to serving bento — a traditional, take-out style Japanese meal packed in a lacquered box and typically consisting of compartments of rice, vegetables and cooked fish or meat.
Takemoto said that the restaurant plans to launch the bento dish as a fundraiser on Wednesday, with 100 percent of the proceeds made on each meal donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund through the Japan Society.
“The bento reflects the region where I am from,” said Suzuki, who worked for years as a chef in Japan and in Manhattan before heading to the North Fork. “These are childhood memories of what I made when I was younger.”
Keith Luce, owner of Jedediah Hawkins Inn, said that he hopes Suzuki’s bento will provide a bridge between two countries and motivate local people to help those a world away.
“This is a terrible thing that happened, but I hope it’s the answer to a greater effort,” he said. “Minoru is a very sensitive, caring person — you can see that in his food, which is so rooted in tradition. It’s fate, the way he came to us. We’d like to build a bridge to Japan here.”
Takemoto, 54, had worked over the years with Suzuki creating sushi plates at in Cutchogue and cooking at the in Mattituck.
“He’s a master of Japanese cooking – soba, udon, and bento,” Takemoto said.
Takemoto also works as a translator for several other corporations and for the Japanese government. He has been with Jedediah Hawkins since November of last year, is originally from Tokyo and is married to Christine Kempner, the community development director for Riverhead Town and a member of the He and his wife also have family members in Honolulu, but he’s been able to make sure that they are OK.
"It’s him I’m really worried about,” Takemoto said of his friend and co-worker.
Visit Jedediah Hawkins Inn's website at www.jedediahhawkinsinn.com for more information on the bento fundraiser and visit www.japansociety.org//content.cfm?page=japan_earthquake_relief_fund to find out other ways to help with earthquake relief in Japan.