If The Hump, the Santa Monica restaurant that allegedly served illegal whale sushi, was not exactly in the same league as its more critically acclaimed competition (Urasawa, Nozawa), it was still on the map for many celebrities, some of whom frequented the eatery after flying into adjacent Santa Monica airport on their private planes.
A source who used to work at the restaurant tells the Weekly that Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Phil Jackson, Kimberly Hefner and people from nearby MTV Networks were among The Hump's regulars. They didn't, however, order the whale meat, he said. Whale, in fact, wasn't the main draw, although the restaurant was known for its exotic fare. It also served horse meat and “snapping turtle” — a course that featured turtle-blood-infused port wine along with deep-fried turtle meat — he said.
Our source says whale meat was available at the eatery only about once or so a year, when one particular vendor who specialized in exotic meat would declare it was in stock and push it on the restaurant. He said the eatery charged $50 for four-to-six sashimi slices of the meat.
Our source said that whale meat is also known to be available at smaller, more-private sushi establishments in the Japanese-American enclaves of Torrance and Gardena. He said he wouldn't be surprised if some of the city's more famed sushi chefs also served it discretely to special customers, although he said he had no specific knowledge of this happening.
The onetime Hump worker, who did not want his name used, expressed surprise over the attention the whale-meat controversy received this week after a documentary film crew revealed that it secretly taped the allegedly endangered and illegal sei whale being served. Federal authorities reportedly cracked down after the film crew's revelations. (The city of Santa Monica owns the land used by the eatery and is also looking into the possibility of revoking the lease).
Our source explained that whale meat is not exotic in Japan and was once a staple for school children in a nation devastated after World War II. “They're trying to bash the whole Japanese sushi restaurant culture,” he said. “We paid a lot of respect to where this fish was coming from. It was something special and unique.”
He also said “the same kind of Hollywood people” who exposed the whale meat service “eat this kind of stuff. Who do you think orders this?”