Former Truckee resident and sushi chef extraordinaire Gary Flood died July 17, 2008, at the age of 51 from head injuries suffered after being struck by a vehicle while making his way across the street in a Soquel, Calif. crosswalk.
He was in Santa Cruz for his daughter Maddie’s 19th birthday and had stopped off at Sir Froggy’s for a drink and a 20-minute visit with a friend he hadn’t seen in a while. The driver of the vehicle was not speeding witnesses stated; she said she didn’t see Floodie, though at 6 p.m. it is still light. She has not been charged and is cooperating fully with investigators. Circumstances indicate Gary’s death was truly a fluke accident: How could anyone not notice Floodie?
Gary grew up in Gardena, Calif., the son of two hard-working parents who would not allow their son to become caught up in the racial tensions of the streets. In Gardena, Gary said, you were black or Japanese and the two did not mix. But having been taught to value the person, Gary in high school fell in love with a Japanese girl. Her father intervened by hiring Gary to work in his restaurant. He worked the young man many long and late hours and Gary had little time to spend with his love.
Over the course of a couple years as a busy understudy to the young woman’s father, Gary’s interest in the girl gave way to a love of sushi and a devotion to creating exquisite flavors with fish and rice and whatnot. Gary’s sushi excited the palettes of Californians north and south, and he became well known on the restaurant circuit as one of the premier flavor masters in the state. A search of the Internet for “Gary Flood sushi” reveals hundreds of rave restaurant reviews: The man was a flavor genius.
Gary taught sushi classes in Truckee-Tahoe and was best known for his mastery behind the bars of Java Sushi and Soul Sushi. He knew how to ease folks into the pleasure of sushi and how to awaken a first-timer’s taste buds to its wonder. He nurtured first dates and soothed painful break-ups. He helped couples with children enjoy special family meals out and was the one sushi chef others sought out when they wanted good sushi and service.
Many of Gary’s understudies still prepare artful sushi in the Tahoe region. They and others are now filled with sadness knowing their great teacher and mentor is gone.
Gary was a loving and dynamic friend, who was proud of his children and sorry for his time away from them. He listened well and counseled better, but was careful to do so only when asked for advice. He could see both sides of a situation. He was supportive and fun. He listened and played and shared good music. He could barbecue like nobody else, except perhaps the grandmother who had taught him that other side of superb salivary delight.
He played hoops hard and took just about all else easy. He loved life and helped others to do so fully. He was a big black man who lived a few years in Tahoe and snowboarded and fished the region with a passion. He fed us when we celebrated. He revived us when we were depleted. His flavors created a longing that made us keep going back for more.
Gary Flood left Tahoe a few years ago and recently had moved to Carson, Calif. to care for his mother. He was consulting, opening sushi bars around the country, and had continued catering throughout California. Many of us thought we would once again enjoy the satisfaction of sharing a meal with the man, have a drink, sit down and laugh.
Floodie, who gave us so much, will be missed to the end of our days as we move forward with the last lesson he leaves us: Life is short so go live it.
Peace and Farewell, Floodie, for all time. We’ve got Maddie and Ben in our hearts.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Pacific Gardens Chapel on Cayuga St., in Santa Cruz at 11 a.m.