Eater’s Kat Odell visited America’s first 3 star Michelin sushi chef, Masa Takayama, to see how the eponymous chef serves his sushi. Having cut fish for three decades in his restaurant Masa in New York City, and having shaped American sushi culture like no other, we get a detailed look at how the chef serves his dishes and why they are served the way they are.
The restaurant is also America’s most expensive, offering a truly classic Japanese omakase experience with a twist.
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.
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.
Japan is known for their slightly skewed sense of humor, and this is a perfect example of it. The premise is of a meticulous sushi master, unsatisfied with the quality of his results. Keen on appeasement, his apprentice, played by Japanese pro skater Matsuo Hiroyuki, ventures out with his skateboard, landing tricks like a pro on his “custom” setup – a deck with a kitchen grater retrofitted to the underside.
The chef then transitions from “grating” rails to Japanese daikon radishes, much to the enjoyment of his sushi master and the fine texture of his new ingredient. The video closes with the context of the video for Bank Time in Circle K convenience stores – “if only your ATM banking service could be this ‘smooth.’”
Food Beast (by Peter Pham):
Julian Fukue introduced the concept of poke to a completely new audience this past year. The 23-year-old chef hails from Orange County, CA, where his famous PokiNometry restaurant is based from. Fukue brought the Hawaiian dish of ahi tuna into the mainstream with his innovative Poke Bowls. The tuna and rice bowls are what made Fukue arguably one of the youngest entrepernuers in the OC poke industry.
When the humble poke-themed restaurant opened, Fukue set a goal for himself of 100 bowls sold each day. In the weeks to come, however, the bowls began selling like mad. Thanks to word-of-mouth, PokiNometry became instantaneously famous and began selling around 800-1,000 bowls a day.
Fukue came from a restaurant background. When he was a kid, his mother purchased Tustin-based Tommy’s Sushi. There, Fukue learned the ins and outs of the restaurant game starting from the bottom as a dishwasher and working his way up to sushi chef. One dish, in particular, stood out for him: the Poke Bowls.
The concept of the PokiNometry is similar to Chipotle, where customers would line up and assemble their bowls in a customizable fashion. The quick-service restaurant eventually became so busy that Fukue had to close the restaurant down in order to restock and train more employees. He reopened weeks later.
Fukue is set to open a second location of PokiNometry in Hollywood.
Anyone who imagines U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed territorial disputes with China or the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia” foreign policy during their private dinner in Tokyo on Wednesday likely isn’t familiar with the restaurant where the two leaders dined.
Ahead of a protocol-bound formal state visit that officially begins on Thursday, Abe took Obama to Sukiyabashi Jiro, the fabled restaurant in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district widely regarded as the best sushi restaurant in the world.
Diners approach Sukiyabashi Jiro with a sense of reverence.
The experience provided by head chef and proprietor Jiro Ono leaves little time for small talk, much less big talk.
The focus is on the fish.
Heralded as a Japanese national treasure, Ono, who turns 90 next year, is the first sushi chef in the world to receive three Michelin stars.
With hundreds of onlookers behind police barriers lining the streets near the restaurant, Obama and Abe, neither wearing neckties, shook hands and entered the basement restaurant. New U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, also attended the dinner, which lasted about an hour and a half.
Like those who have gone before him into this shrine of sushi, Obama did not leave disappointed.
“President Obama told me that, ‘I was born in Hawaii and ate a lot of sushi, but this was the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life,'” Abe told Japan‘s NHK network after the meal.
While Obama praised the sushi enthusiastically, some onlookers said he stopped eating halfway through the meal.
The owner of another restaurant that is located in the same subway station told Tokyo Broadcasting System that Obama had put his chopsticks down midway into the dinner.
He also said a sushi chef from Sukiyabashi Jiro said Obama did not make small talk, but was quite serious, jumping into a discussion on trade immediately.
Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, refused Thursday to cite exactly how much Obama ate, saying instead: “It’s true that he ate a good amount.”
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A great sushi chef in another state once complained to me about a health code violation he’d received for making sushi without gloves. “Making sushi with gloves is like making love with a condom,” he said. “It just isn’t the same.”
Well, as of Jan. 1, California‘s law has changed so that there can no longer be any bare-handed contact with foods that won’t be cooked. That means baked goods, salads – and yes, even sushi.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the new law will undergo a “soft rollout” over the next six months, meaning restaurants will receive warnings rather than violations on inspection reports so that owners and operators can become familiar with the new law.NRN describes the specifics of the law:
Under the new rules, such foods must be handled with single-use gloves or utensils like tongs, forks, spoons, bakery or deli wraps, wax paper, scoops, spatulas, or dispensing equipment.
As mandated previously, foodservice workers must also thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water before entering a food preparation area, before putting on clean gloves or between glove changes.
That’s a lot of hand washing.
It’s hard to imagine the sushi masters at our finest Japanese restaurants adhering to this rule. So much of sushi preparation is about feel and tactile sense memory.
There is a way for restaurants to seek an exemption for specific situations, but it’s unlikely that the exemption covers “thousands of years of tradition.”
Hooray for safe sex, we suppose?
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In the skilled hands of Okitsugu Kado, a knife transforms vegetables into sculptural art so realistic, they’re scary.
Take the pumpkin, for example, that he turned into a hideous faced monster.
“When I placed it in my store, a little kid cried,” said Kado, his face clearly expressing remorse, as he rested his hand on the guilty gourd.
Kado manages Sushi Bistro Minayoshi, a sushi shop, in Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture. But after business hours he spreads vegetables out in the kitchen and works his carving knife in silence to create pieces of vegetable art. Among his works, a rabbit looks ready to hop at any moment, a peony appears soft and aromatic, and Pegasus spreads his wings.
Before making a living as a sushi chef, Kado got his start with Western cuisine. While working at the Western food department of a wedding hall, an ice statue party decoration so impressed him that he began apprenticing under an ice sculptor.
Kado later encountered vegetable art made by a chef in Canada, where he had gone to sharpen his cooking skills. After returning to Japan, he took over his father’s sushi shop, but continued creating vegetable art as he studied on his own.
“It’s fun when a piece turns out just how I imagined. But if I screw up I can just eat it,” he said.
Although no more than a hobby at first, Kado drew praise when he used the art to ornament the food sold to customers in the shop. Now he also gets requests to make carvings for children’s birthdays and other special occasions.
In October, Kado won a prize in a category at a European vegetable carving competition in Russia.
As for making the jump from Western dining to sushi and then to vegetable art, Kado sees a connection.
“Well, food nourishes the body when eaten, while vegetable art nourishes the soul by astonishing us. I’m a ‘foodstuff interpreter.’ Either way my job is to present the customer with food in the best way I can.”
Kado’s artwork can be seen online at the store website (http://minayoshi.net).
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