Chef Gary Marshall Brings Gari Shoyu to Churchview Farms

Chef Gary Marshall of Gari Shoyu became interested in Japanese cooking through tattoos. “I was curious about the story behind Japanese tattooing styles and why they were so different from western tattoos,” Marshall, who is heavily tattooed himself, remembered. (He jokes that his whole body is tattooed already, he just hasn’t paid for it yet).

Japanese tattoos, called 入れ墨 (irezumi, meaning “putting on ink”) cover more of the body than American Traditional style tattoos and have parameters defining which specific motifs they can use from mythology and the natural world. Some motifs have ties to Japanese organized crime. This fascinated Marshall. “I wanted to know the stories behind the art,” he said. “That was what got me into Japanese culture in the first place. I’m a big history nerd.”   

“The people that trained me trained me right, and that’s what gave me the confidence to do what I do.”

From that curiosity about Japanese history, Marshall founded Gari Shoyu, a Japanese cuisine pop-up that serves Japanese-style street fare sandwiches or サンド (sando) at breweries and multi-course tasting dinner menus. Marshall began cooking to pay his way through college at eighteen, and the hustle of the chef lifestyle brought him to working at Umami under Chef Roger Li.

“The people that trained me trained me right, and that’s what gave me the confidence to do what I do,” Marshall said of his time at Umami, which lasted four years. “Roger taught me everything I know about Japanese cooking. I focused on learning when I was at Umami, and then bought volumes and volumes of books on Japanese food and Japanese cuisine. One night, I thought to myself ‘I really love this food, why don’t I just try to cook it?’”

I tried Marshall’s food at a pop-up at Soju, but his next project is the second iteration of his eight-course-dinner at Churchview Farm on July 31. At Soju, I sampled the Inari, a specific type of sushi consisting of rice wrapped in deep-fried tofu. Marshall’s Yaki Inari had a more complex flavor in the rice than I had had before, derived from with fermented vinegar fortified with tomatoes. While this dish is common in Japan or on the west coast of the United States, it’s hard to find it on menus in Pittsburgh, where sushi with a seaweed wrap is more ubiquitous.

Inari on a white plate on a wooden background
The inari with tomato rice

“I like to open people’s minds to why they’re eating what they’re eating…in that specific order. More than just eating and saying ‘this is good.’”

The dinners at Churchview Farms allow for him to use the Japanese course order, one of the things he finds most rewarding. “There’s a ton of precision and care that goes into these things. There’s different rices, different vinegar. Just one fish has a thousand different applications, and how things are presented and prepared has a lot of variation,” he said.

Marshall also has loyal repeat diners from his pop-ups at Scratch & Co and his previous Churchview dinner. “I like to open people’s minds to why they’re eating what they’re eating in that specific order. More than just eating and saying ‘this is good,’” he said.  “I want to treat my guests like royalty, and historically, these multi course menus were what literal royalty ate from 1800-1868.”

Gari Shoyu pop-up menu from Churchview Farms
The menu from Marshall’s May 29 dinner

 

He considers a dinner like the one on July 31st an opportunity to celebrate the relationships he’s made across his career, both with guests and with colleagues. “I often think ‘Would Roger [Li] be into this?’ when I’m designing these menus,” Marshall said. He also gives credit to another former pop-up with a bold concept, Fet-Fisk chef Nik Forsberg. Many of Pittsburgh’s boldest chefs begin with pop-ups, and Marshall hopes to one day have a physical location, like Forsberg does now.

“I love seeing people bite into things and nod their head yes.”

What Marshall loves about Japanese cooking is ultimately the same thing he loves about Japanese tattoos: Its connection to history and its complexity that allows him to learn something new about it every day. “I’m by no means a master of this,” he said. “I’m sure I have some quiet haters, but the response overall has been pretty good. Some of my favorite moments are getting to see older Pittsburghers who’ve never had certain kinds of fish before. I love seeing people bite into things and nod their head yes.”

His favorite part of his pop-ups at restaurants and dinner menus like the one at Churchview, though, is getting to cook alongside longtime friends. “It’s scary to do this, but it’s fun creatively to see what other people are doing. It’s all good for food culture in Pittsburgh.”

Story by Emma Riva / Photo courtesy of Gari Shoyu

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