A woman with a pixie cut in a black chef uniform holds a small chef's torch. She stands behind a sushi bar. Photo: Jess Gruneisen

How Chef Peggi Ince-Whiting Brought Sushi Home

Food: Interviews & Features

To enact lasting change as a tastemaker is quite a feat. Few have done it with as much tectonic impact yet humble grace for the Salt Lake community as Chef Peggi Ince-Whiting. She has pushed against the societal expectations of her Mormon upbringing and traditional Japanese stigma of women behind sushi bars to sustain a career spanning over four decades. She has been lauded for her efforts, most recently earning a James Beard nomination for Best Chef in the Mountain region in 2020. From owning Park City’s first sushi bar to currently helming Salt Lake’s longest-standing Japanese restaurant, Ince-Whiting’s life and career are a testament to perseverance and fortitude with triumphant results.

Chef Ince-Whiting’s family were among the original peach farmers in Holladay. Their food was simple, homemade fare. In high school, she began working as a tempura chef at The Hibachi—one of Salt Lake’s first Japanese establishments, introducing her to the intricacies of the cuisine that would come to define her life.

“I got off the plane, wrote a menu and opened the restaurant, within weeks of getting home.”

A woman in a black chef's uniform smiles as she holds a sushi bowl towards the camera.
Ince-Whiting has been working behind the sushi bar for over four decades.  Photo: Jess Gruneisen.

After graduating, Ince-Whiting landed an LDS mission in Japan. That first visit gifted her with Japanese language fluency, which she still utilizes to this day. Afterwards, she went back into the kitchen to pay her way through college. As it turns out, Ince-Whiting enjoyed cooking more than class. “I was offered a sushi job at The 47 Samurai in Trolley Square. I thought, at the time … I could do that for a year. That was 41 years ago.”

Thanks to her skill and unique presence behind the bar, she made lucky connections with regular customers. Two Utah-based Japanese businessmen offered Ince-Whiting the opportunity to study in Tokyo. She spent a year training under Master Inou, whom she describes as kind and honest. During one shift, Ince-Whiting recalls Inou describing in detail “becoming one with the fish” before ever putting his knife to the tuna. At times the male apprentices attempted to bully her away from the bar. Despite this, Chef Ince-Whiting persevered, working 12-hour shifts with only one day off a month to complete her training.

Prior to leaving for Japan, Ince-Whiting secured a partnership with a local couple to open Park City’s first sushi bar. While she was away, they completed construction on Ichiban Sushi. “I got off the plane, wrote a menu and opened the restaurant, within weeks of getting home,” she says.

Ichiban started in the basement of what is now 350 Main Brasserie with a 10-seat bar and four tables, remaining open in Park City for 11 years. Due to its wild success, Ince-Whiting relocated to a historic church in downtown Salt Lake. Regular customers’ chopsticks hung on the wall and massive open house sushi parties were the crowning jewel of each season. After over 20 successful years, she closed Ichiban in order to spend more time with her two kids.

During her decade of “retirement,” Ince-Whiting was not idle, opening a teriyaki sauce company, Seal Sama, and working as a fishmonger. In 2015, the then-owners of Kyoto Japanese Restaurant reached out to woo Ince-Whiting back behind the sushi bar. Initially she said no, but ultimately knew it was time to return to her roots.

“I was offered a sushi job at The 47 Samurai in Trolley Square. I thought, at the time … I could do that for a year. That was 41 years ago.”

A sushi bowl and a plate of three individual pieces of fish drizzled in sauce sit atop the sushi bar counter.
Ince-Whiting has worked hard and persevered throughout her career. Photo: Jess Gruneisen.


Since then, she has facilitated a renaissance for the venerable establishment, with long-time customers coming out of the woodwork to see her, knife in hand, once again. When asked what has kept her going in this industry, she says it is her “farm girl work ethic” and a deep love for the craft.

Not only has Chef Peggi Ince-Whiting changed the culinary lives of Utah residents, but she has also changed mine. I’ve had the immense honor to work alongside her for nearly a decade now. She has taught me everything I know as a chef, having a profound effect not only on how I navigate life as a woman in a male-dominated industry but also outside the restaurant walls. When I ask how long she still has behind the bar, she says, “I still think I have 10 years in me.” From what I know of her, I wouldn’t doubt it for a second.

Read more from the Local Food Issue:
Seasons Cheese: A Revival of Plant-Based Cheese
Salt Lake City’s Finest Pop-ups