Next Shark: Female sushi chefs fight for acceptance after being harassed by sexist customers

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Next Shark (by Laura Dang):

When was the last time you saw a woman behind a sushi counter? Many people have never encountered such a sight in all their years of sushi eating. It may come as a surprise to those who are realizing this now, but there is a strongly held Japanese belief that sushi chefs must possess a macho “Edo-style” swagger.

The cultural norm in Japan dictates that the sushi made by men taste better and are of higher quality than sushi made by women. The son of famous master sushi chef Jiro once said women can’t be sushi chefs because their menstrual cycle interferes with their sense of taste. This stereotype that women’s warmer body temperatures contributes to their inferiority in making sushi has also played a key role in making the realm of sushi cuisine a predominantly male tradition in Japan.

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According to the Dallas Morning News, 28-year-old Yuki Chidui is now fighting for the inclusion of women in the art of sushi preparation. The sushi chef and manager at the all-women Nadeshico sushi restaurant in Tokyo is challenging age-old tradition and gender stereotypes. She said of female sushi chefs’ strengths:

“I think women are better at communicating with customers, and they’re kind and gentle.”

Chidui is soft-spoken and unlike other itamae, or sushi chefs, in dress and demeanor. Fliers portray her as a doe-eyed manga character to promote her store’s motto of “fresh and kawaii,” or “cute.”

She has intentionally strived to move away from the traditional look of sushi chefs who sport closely cropped hair as a statement to challenging tradition. Chidui can be found dressed in a white summer kimono decorated with pink blossoms.

Since opening Nadeshico in 2010, the pioneering restaurant owner says she has encountered rude remarks from male customers who question her capabilities and ask:

“Can you really do it?”

Although there are no official statistics on female sushi chefs in Japan, the All Japan Sushi Association, which groups 5,000 sushi restaurant owners nationwide, says they are rare.

A Manhattan sushi restaurant introduces a flight featuring all local fish

The sushi counter at 15 East

Bloomberg (by Tejal Rao): 

15 East is a quiet little Japanese restaurant just off Union Square, where I find the mood is always quite civilized and serious. That was the case on a recent evening, until a junior sushi chef started playing with two massive prawns, whirling them together on the cutting board as if they were ballroom dancing. Another sushi chef grinned widely, then politely told him to stop that.

The restaurant opened in 2006 and it’s a consistently good spot for sushi (along with dishes like poached octopus, and delicate soba noodles with duck and scallions). The newest menu item, a “local fish flight” ($55 for 10 pieces), was introduced a couple of weeks ago and features fish from Long Island and its environs. Earlier this week, that meant lightly smoked mackerel, and a piece of fluke wrapped in a shiso leaf, each presented as nigiri on long, slender clusters of warm rice.

Owner Marco Moreira is a big fan of the local squid from Long Island, served raw. “It’s just gorgeous,” he told me over the phone. “It’s unbelievable with a little citrus zest and sea salt, but unfortunately we don’t always have it in house.

The kitchen purchases fish from all over the world—Japan, Spain, Portugal—but Moreira explained that he wanted to introduce a new option that would celebrate local scallops, and a couple varieties of whitefish, as well. A tuna from North Carolina, which Moreira admits is only relatively local, may occasionally make an appearance.

If the kitchen runs out of the local stuff before you get to your tenth piece of nigiri, you’ll have the option to try other fish at the counter. You may find yourself with a wide slice of crunchy sea clam, a sweet raw shrimp, or a couple of oysters marinated in olive oil and rosemary (works!). With tiny wedges of the pickled ginger Shimizu makes in house in between each bite, it all makes for a lovely, light, clean-living kind of dinner.

This flight isn’t the most luxurious one in town, but it doesn’t bill itself as that, and in many ways that’s part of its appeal. The experience is straightforward and inexpensive, and so is the seafood. This is everyday sushi done well—if you’re looking for something more deluxe, go with the excellent $110 omakase, which roams farther and wider.

15 East Restaurant is at 15 E 15th Street (Flatiron); +1 212 647-0015 or 15eastrestaurant.com

Smoked mackerel nigiri, from 15 East’s new local fish flight