Moments of Zen


Between the hours of three and five in the afternoon, the streets of Spain shut down and people go home to their families to savor their lunch. Whether it’s taking time to sip their coffee or sangria, Spaniards know how to live in the moment. Veteran Uchi waiter John Sizemore would like that same idea to become more popular in America.

“I have so much respect for the 90 minutes when people come and sit in my section. Whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a date, I really try to make it the most Spanish moment of their life,” he said, as he recalled his time in Spain while in the Navy.

For nine years, Sizemore has served culinary connoisseurs and budding foodies alike at Uchi, Austin’s premiere Japanese dining destination. After working at places like Hotel San Jose and the Ritz Carlton, he is no stranger to the hospitality business and intuitively knows how to make people smile by making them feel comfortable.

Over the years, Sizemore has witnessed Uchi’s transformation from selling crunchy tuna rolls and diet Coke to salmon belly sashimi and $100 bottles of sake. He recognizes the artistry and quality of work his co-workers put into the preparation of the fish hours before the restaurant opens its doors. “I’m just the composer of an orchestra that is so phenomenal and artistic,” he said. “I’m proud to be part of it.”

Sizemore’s favorite item on the menu is the Hama Chili, baby yellowtail with Thai chilis and oranges, but he has many more recommendations for new Uchi patrons. “I try to convince newcomers to try one or two things that they’re comfortable with, and when I gain their trust, I try to get them to push the envelope a little bit.”

Sizemore said he knew he was gay the moment he could form thoughts. Growing up in Annapolis, Md., seven- year-old John would chase the neighborhood boys and get scolded by his parents. It was the beginning of his emotionally going into the closet, he added.

In 1985, as an18-year-old, Sizemore joined the Navy and traveled to Israel, Italy, and Spain. He became more disciplined and independent while at sea, but he also had to be more secretive about his sexuality. With the AIDS epidemic as the backdrop, the young man was terrified, and it pushed him into the closet again.

Unlike many young gay men, Sizemore was more conservative about his sexuality, which he credits to being in the Navy. “I think the Navy gave me the discipline to conduct myself as a man,” he said. “I never really got out of control. I wasn’t ready to be in leather chaps at Gay Pride.”

Once he left the Navy, Sizemore came out to his family. He said they cried. “I think they were probably scared for their kid, especially back then when [the AIDS epidemic] was all over the news,” he added. “My mom probably thought for sure I’d end up dead.”

The summer Sizemore lived in Provincetown, Mass., in 1990 was the most liberating and transitional time in his life. He finally accepted himself. “It taught me that there was a thin line between being a closeted, uptight guy and being a drag queen on a float,” he said. “I kind of found myself in the middle.”

Throughout high school, Sizemore was involved with theater and dabbled in stand-up comedy. While living in Atlanta in 1997, he decided to give stand-up another try at some open mic nights. He had the courage to go up and say what was on his mind. The crowds would fall to the floor, Sizemore said. “There’s no greater feeling than making someone laugh,” he added. At one point, he won many contests and awards for his routines. In 2001 he was heading to California to pursue a career in stand-up when he stopped in Austin—and never left. Although much of the gay community adores comedian Kathy Griffin, Sizemore remarked that he dislikes mean- spirited humor. He appreciates such comics as Margaret Cho and Jim Gallaghar. When Sizemore is not working, he loves to cook, hike and fix things up. His favorite spot to go hiking is in McKinney Falls, where he can clear his mind and admire nature’s beauty.

The great outdoors is also his ideal setting for a first date. A romantic at heart, the bachelor believes the Internet has ruined traditional courtship. “I’d like to find a true, passionate, real solid relationship based on respect, intimacy and loyalty,” he said.

With his personality and sense of humor, Sizemore is sure to serve his future partner well. Whether he’s entertaining guests at Uchi or in his own home, there’s no doubt he has a knack with people.