Think sushi is best when it’s the freshest? The Dry Aged Fish Guy would disagree. “Fresh is boring” is Liwei Liao’s tagline, and he’s bringing the age-old technique of dry-aging fish like New Zealand Ora King salmon, blackthroat seaperch, and Baja kampachi to LA’s ever-trendy food scene. Before serving his fish, he hangs them in a dry-aging chamber for anywhere between seven to 15 days.
Liao grew up on the New York waterfront. “I would ditch school at Bronx Science to go fishing, and my dad was okay with it,” he says. “English and history were not my strong suit, but I did well in physics, bio, and math.” Skipping high school in his teens to snag striped bass paid off; Liao now serves up high-end chirashi boxes featuring aged sushi-grade raw fish out of The Joint, his specialized seafood market in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. Originally, the boxes were a way to keep his business afloat in the wake of the pandemic, but now, they’re what he’s best known for. The boxes range from $ 200 to as much as $ 700.
When Liao breaks down a fish, he uses two types of tools: A set of custom knives made specifically for him at a maker in Tokyo, and his watch. Otherwise, it’s just him and the fish. Timing is important in the kitchen, whether he’s preparing chirashi boxes or simply processing the half-ton of fish he sees on a busy day. The chef’s taste has shifted since the days of searching for stripers off the coast of Long Island in high school. Back then, he “was all about G-Shocks and Seikos. I had a yellow and a green G-Shock, and I had a Seiko 5 field watch as my first automatic watch.”
While studying engineering at UCLA, Liao bought a Speedmaster at Tourneau in Century City. That watch now resides with his brother; he gave it to him when he graduated college. Now, he wears a rotation of Rolex and Omega watches – but not the most popular models. While they come from a blue-chip manufacturer, Liao is still drawn to the quirky models in both ranges.
Omega Speedmaster Schumacher Edition
“The early 2000s in Southern California was like real-life Fast and the Furious,” Liao says. “Car culture was huge, and I was always hanging out around the car shops. I was into DTM, and I had a lot of friends into JDM, too.” In the early 2000s, German driver Michael Schumacher was king – so Omega produced numerous Speedmaster limited-edition models honoring his achievements in karting all the way up to F1.
Peer into the open kitchen at Liao breaking down a fish, and you’re likely to spot the Rolex Milgauss on his wrist. “When I’m sticking my hand inside a fish, I’m usually wearing the Milgauss. It’s been my workhorse for a while now” he says. And in the metal, there’s more than just fish guts – those wash right off, anyway – there’s also a love story.
Liao became interested in this watch after seeing it advertised on billboards and in magazines. “The green crystal stood out to me, and being an engineer, I was drawn to the science background of the watch.” But like most Rolex models today, it proved difficult to actually find. “I kept calling different ADs around Southern California and no one had one for me,” he says. “But then, on a trip to Taiwan, I walked into an AD and there was one sitting in the case. I was newly married, and my wife bought a matching Datejust. We didn’t plan on it, but it was a way to celebrate us. We had gotten married earlier in the year and the trip to Taiwan was for us to see family over there.”
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
Liao learned the hard way what cleaning fish every day can do to chrono pushers; when his Speedmaster became compromised, it took $ 800 to get it back in shape. He didn’t want to go through that service process again. He needed something more practical, something that could stand up to the work. He landed on the Seamaster Aqua Terra because it thematically fit with his budding engineering-focused collection. Plus, the ocean ties just made sense.
Rolex “Hulk” Submariner 116610LV
There’s no doubt that Liao wears his watches hard. He cleans the fish scales and slime off his watch daily. And when his Hulk suddenly rose in value after it was discontinued, he retired it from the daily rotation. It’s now sitting in a safe back east.
Kagekiyo Chef’s Knives
Liao uses custom-made Kagekiyo knives from Sakai, Japan, that allow him to scale fish using the sukibiki technique, in which he cuts off the scales rather than raking them off with a fish scaler. “The scales of fish are essentially their armor,” he says, “and you need a really, really sharp edge to cut through that armor on some fish. You’re not cutting through flesh all the time, sometimes you’re cutting through bony plates. The sharper the knife, the more brittle it can be, so you need to find a balance between durability and sharpness.”
He found the perfect balance in a little Japanese knife shop where “there’s a guy who makes the steel, then another guy that shapes and sharpens the steel, then another guy sets it into the handle. They’re all true craftsmen who are the best at a single aspect of the production of the knife. We had a special tip and heel made specifically for the type of work we do here, and that’s something you can only get done in Japan.”