Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Sushi Chefs Got a Little Too Exotic
By Jason Islas
February 6, 2013 -- It was never any secret that the menu at The Hump in Santa Monica was full of some of the most exotic culinary options in Los Angeles.
The trendy restaurant, which opened in 1998 at Santa Monica Airport, offered the staples of most sushi restaurants, like yellowtail and blue fin tuna. The Hump also offered blow fish, which can be lethal if improperly prepared, and a dish made with snapping turtle on aspic, sprinkled in gold.
And then there was the option to order omakase-style, a Japanese word that roughly translates to “I'll leave it to you.” In restaurants, it means that patrons let the chefs decide what to serve.
“At The Hump, (omakase) literally means to entrust your dining experience to our chefs,” the menu reads.
“In so doing, a culinary adventure will be created for you unlike any that you have previously experienced. Using the freshest, most unique ingredients and presentations; building from one course to the next; you will be treated to a succession of meticulously chosen and prepared dishes.”
It is because of omakase that two former Hump chefs and the former owner of the restaurant have been indicted by a federal grand jury. The chefs are looking at possible prison terms and Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., which owned the Hump, faces fines totaling $1.2 million, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
“The indictment accuses the three defendants of conspiring to import and sell whale meat, specifically meat from Sei whales, which are listed as an endangered species,” the U.S attorney's office said.
The restaurant -- along with chefs Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda -- came under investigation for allegedly selling the meat of the endangered animals in 2010 after two activists ordered omakase-style and specifically asked for whale meat.
The activists got what they ordered, and they stowed away pieces of the eight slices of whale meat for DNA testing, which later confirmed that the meat was Sei whale.
The sting was conducted by the makers of the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” which exposed dolphin slaughter off the Japanese coast.
The Hump closed shortly afterward as a “self-imposed punishment,” according to the restaurant's website.
“The Hump hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species,” the site reads.
The U.S attorney's office alleges that the “conspiracy” had been going on for three years.
From 2007 to 2010, “Yamamoto and Ueda allegedly ordered the whale meat from Ginichi Ohira, a Japanese national who previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally selling a marine mammal product,” officials said.
While an International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, Japan continues the practice, claiming that it is for scientific research.
Ohira pleaded guilty to smuggling the illicit meat in 2011.
The three defendants are expected to face trial later this month.
“If they are convicted of the charges against them in the indictment, Yamamoto would face a statutory maximum penalty of 67 years in federal prison, and Ueda would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years,” officials said.
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