Chef DeVonn Francis of Pony Boy

When he was a freshman at Stanford, Stember became a sushi fanatic for one simple, if highly ambitious reason—to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Suspicious of carbo-loading, the captain of the university’s track team hosted weekly dinner parties with his teammates, a kind of “sushi art club” fusing elements of performance art with the high-octane protein of sustainable raw fish. Stember made it to Sydney, and after retiring from the sport he founded Sushi Belly Tower, an underground dinner series. The roving international pop-up, which sometimes took place in Stember’s Los Angeles loft, was animated by spectacle—the self-taught chef would break down an 18-pound aquacultured salmon into artfully constructed sashimi platters drizzled in nut oil, as a live band played cuts from Nirvana and the Talking Heads. “It was an adventure,” says Stember, who’s 40, “and I cared about that adventure so much.” Today he’s replicating that spontaneity at Ponyboy, his new bar, restaurant and concert venue in Greenpoint. From the open kitchen, Stember serves up modestly priced fish tacos next to his upwards-of-$300 omakase—delivered with the gusto of a natural showman. “It’s definitely a show, and the kitchen’s a stage,” he says. “Everyone’s watching.”