Originally published in the 2024 Cincy Region Visitors Guide. Interview by Nick Dekker. 

What makes our region special? Hear it straight from one of our local experts: Chef Hideki Harada, a James Beard-nominated chef who owns Kiki in College Hill, Sen by Kiki at Findlay Market and Daruma downtown. 

Chef Hideki Harada

Credit: Hideki Harada

Did your family cook when you were growing up in Cincinnati? 

My mom did cook, but what she cooked was heartier Japanese food. I did help around the kitchen, but I was ore of the eater. We had days where we did dumplings, and I made the botched dumplings. 

What got you into the restaurant industry? 

When I got my first job at BW3's, it sparked my interest in the kitchen. It felt right in the industry, so I kept it up for many years after that. I went in looking to serve at a sushi bar, but because of my fluent Japanese they were looking for sushi chefs. I really enjoyed it and focused on the culinary industry. 

And you've worked in restaurants around the world! Tell us about that. 

I moved to Columbus to work at Restaurant Hama at Easton, then I was at Haiku, and then I moved back to Cincinnati and helped open Embers. I took a hiatus from sushi with a position at Boca to try my hand in Italian fine dining. Then I moved to Japan for four years, which hit a reset button for me. Finally I went to culinary school at Tsuji in Osaka. I moved to Amsterdam for eight months to be at Hotel Okura, a Michelin hotel. It didn't fit right, so I felt the need to go back to Japan and work at an omakase.

What was your first Cincinnati restaurant?

I opened Kaze in Cincinnati in 2012. It was really ambitious with 200 seats, really exhausting. I ended that partnership and opened Kiki in College Hill, where we've gotten some notoriety with a James Beard nomination.

Then we added the fish market, Sen by Kiki, in Findlay Market. That's been going over well. It's beautiful to be there. It gets me back into being part of the city.  

What was your reaction to the James Beard nomination in 2023?

It was surreal when I saw my wife's and my name on there. It was a surprise for me. We made it through the semifinals. It's big for Cincinnati!

Tell us more about Daruma downtown. 

It's a Japanese convenience store. When I lived four years in Japan, anything you ever needed was in these convenience stores. The desserts, the food, the snacks were all good. I wanted to bring that to Cincy. It's very quaint, it's very cute, it's very small. 

Aside from your restaurants, where do you like to eat?

I'm a true Cincinnatian. I go to Skyline at least once a month. I can't seem to break that habit. I get a single cheese coney with everything on it and a small three-way. That's my tried-and-true order. 

Also, Findlay Market. I fell in love with the energy there... it's definitely an engaging experience, a lot of mom-and-pop stores inside. The market is a beautiful thing. And lastly, Torta Garcia. They're in College Hill with me at Kiki. I'm hooked. I eat there like twice a week. They make their own corn tortillas. They do a phenomenal job. 

Do you have a favorite Cincinnati event?

I'm really looking forward to BLINK! It's just out of this world. It's really lucky for us Cincinnatians to have something so unique and brings good energy to the downtown area. 


For more interviews with locals and other useful, trip-planning information, request your own copy of the Official Cincy Region Visitors Guide!