Manning a hibachi grill is about more than just cooking food. When customers pull up a chair at Chef Zosimo Capili’s station inside Domo Japanese Hibachi Grill, Sushi and Ramen, they expect theatrics, and he is happy to oblige.
From stacking onion ring volcano towers and flipping eggs on a spatula to twisting knives and supplying the occasional joke, Capili has mastered culinary entertainment.
“I never get tired of doing it,” says Capili. “When I come in here, I (give it) everything I’ve got.”
Cooking hibachi — or technically teppanyaki, as the grill is slightly different in Japan but referred to as hibachi in the United States — takes a sharp level of focus that is not just dedicated to the food, but also the customers seated around the grill. Capili says most of the time, patrons are looking for a show.
“If people aren’t interested (or) if they are talking, I just leave it,” he says. “I always respect the customer. If they are busy talking, I just cook. But if they are looking for fun, I can give it to them.”
Capili is also the owner of Domo, which is located at 215 N. Green River Road. He stays busy as one of three hibachi chefs at the restaurant.
Hibachi requires an individual style, says Capili. He’s seen other chefs try to replicate his approach and even heard them tell the same jokes, but they can’t copy his charismatic personality. In the end, a chef’s success is determined by the quality of the food served. Capili says his most popular dish is fried rice.
“In hibachi, you expose yourself more compared to working in the kitchen. You’re in front of people every day,” he says. “You meet a lot of people, and that’s why, after 36 years, I never get tired. There’s a different person every day.”
Hibachi wasn’t his first love. Capili’s original dream was to be a photographer, and he could often be found wielding his film camera while growing up in the Philippines.
“In photography, you have to be active and creative. That’s why I’m always trying to improve on my creations,” he says. “It’s the same thing with hibachi. You have to be creative.”
The 63-year-old chef has cooked in restaurants across the world, from Thailand to South Africa, mostly through Benihana international restaurants, where he learned to cook hibachi and work on promotions for new locations.
Capili’s expert culinary technique and knack for having fun with food have put him front and center before celebrities such as singer Janet Jackson and retired professional golfer Greg Norman. His gastronomic flair and aptitude for entertaining guests with a simple flip of the spatula has led to appearances on commercials and on morning shows in Thailand and South Africa.
“(Hibachi is) easy to learn, if you’re interested,” he says. “I try my best to do lots of practice and to become a professional.”
Grab a seat at Capili’s table and enjoy his entertaining presentation by visiting Domo from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday or until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.