Michael Sohocki, chef and owner of Restaurant Gwendolyn and co-owner of Kimura, developed his commitment to sustainability and authenticity over a lifetime of experiences that stretches from the Texas Gulf Coast to Japan. A native of Robstown, Texas, his creative endeavors began as a visual artist and led to working as a waiter, then finding a position at a small restaurant Marcel’s in the resort town of Port Aransas. There, he learned the discipline of the culinary craft, from washing dishes and scrubbing the kitchen sink to butchering fish, making salads and baking thousands of loaves of bread.
His apprenticeship complete, he left Texas for Hyde Park, N.Y., and the Culinary Institute of America and then cooking in San Francisco. He and his then-wife took their infant daughter to live in her mother’s home country of Japan. Michael, like many gaijin, taught English. Unlike other foreigners, he opened a cooking school within the language program in Osaka. There, he found his beloved Glestain knife, which he customized and wears holstered at his hip at the restaurant.
Instead of going to work at a kitchen in New York or San Francisco, he chose San Antonio, a larger city he knew as a child, a place where he felt comfortable and where he had family. With the intention of opening his own restaurant, he began working at The Cove, a successful casual American restaurant committed to local, organic and sustainable products. While he served as chef there, he gained his own appreciation and passion for the finest seasonal ingredients, and experienced the explosion of interest in the restaurant after it was featured on the Food Network.
Michael moved to Le Rêve, a 12-table contemporary French restaurant that Gourmet magazine called one of the 10 best in America. At Le Rêve, he honed his skills under the famously demanding standards of Andrew Weissman, a fellow CIA grad who trained in France. He moved with Weissman to the regional Italian Il Sogno, which received local and national accolades soon after it opened.
In 2010, Michael took over the former Le Rêve location with his tribute to his grandmother Gwendolyn, a pig farmer in Oklahoma who grew up during the Great Depression and whose resourcefulness continues to inspire him. Star Chefs named Michael a Rising Star Sustainability Chef in 2012 and the following year, the James Beard Foundation selected him as a semifinalist for Best Chef-Southwest. Later that year, he and his partner Jenn Wade opened Kimura, an izakaya and ramen shop, which presents a Japanese experience previously unknown in San Antonio. At Gwendolyn, he deliberately roots his techniques and sourcing in the past, which points the way to the future of food in South Texas and beyond.