Washoku Explorers: A lesson in sushi craftsmanship
November 6, 2017
In this installment, we’ll follow a trio of culinary experts from the United States and Britain as they take a "special sushi lesson" from a real sushi craftsman at a long-established Tokyo restaurant. You can also watch a video of our three food experts trying their hands at the craft of sushi. Don’t miss it!
(Above left: Yoshi Tezuka, sushi craftsman)
Our teacher is Yoshi Tezuka, fourth-generation chef at a Tokyo sushi restaurant established over 100 years ago. He summoned the group to Japan's legendary Tsukiji market at 5 o'clock in the morning for their first lesson. Besides dealing with fruits and vegetables, the market is best known for the massive volume of fishery products it handles – around 480 varieties – with annual transactions said to be over 440 billion yen. Already mesmerized by the staggering variety of seafood arriving from all over the country and around the world, our explorers marveled at the spectacle of an enormous tuna, which took three people to take apart to be sold.
Before sharing his sushi-making technique, Yoshi took our washoku explorers to Tsukiji with this in mind: "A single piece of sushi contains many layers of professional expertise." Professional fishermen catch the fish, intermediate wholesalers in Tsukiji expertly judge the quality, and sushi craftsmen are masters at serving sushi. Only after these professional skills accumulate step by step, can a perfect piece of sushi be created. Yoshi asserts that 95% of the sushi craftsman's work is in acquiring and preparing the fish. Even the same species of fish tastes different depending on the place of origin and time it is harvested. So, in order for chefs to purchase the most suitable fish for their needs at the time, the keen eyes of the intermediate wholesaler and a trusting relationship are essential.
The "final 5%," Yoshi points out, is simply "making and serving the sushi to the customer." But this step is rich in craftsmanship as well. To begin, our three food aficionados enjoyed Yoshi's exquisite sushi, served with expert timing, as guests in his restaurant. True sushi craftsmen don’t just adjust their timing to the customer’s eating speed, but also customize various elements during the service. They may adjust the volume of the rice depending on whether the customer is male or female, or finesse the angle of the sushi on the plate for right or left-handedness. They’ll even note whether the customer eats with chopsticks or their fingers, and change the hardness of the rice accordingly. Everything is done naturally, in many subtle ways, to enhance the sushi experience. Furthermore, counter-style sushi restaurants are set up so that the craftsmen and customers face each other. This showcases the beauty of the craft, and facilitates the communication with customers that is an essential skill of sushi craftsmen.
Once our three explorers have experienced the hospitality of a true sushi craftsman, it's finally time to put what they've learned into practice. Each one will try their hand at sushi craftsmanship, with the other members acting as customers. All three claim this is their first attempt at authentic sushi. Will they succeed? Please watch to see what happens next!
Sushi is the distillation of all Japanese food culture. Why not treat yourself to the hospitality of real sushi craftsmen when you visit Japan?
Text: Ayaka Miyamoto
3-31-14, Minami-ooi, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Naomi is the owner/chef of a restaurant in Portland, a US city with a reputation for good food. She's known for her innovative use of local ingredients.
A chef at one of the best seafood restaurants in New York, Erik is in charge of researching and developing new menu items.
A food writer based in both London and California, Susan also cooks for her own take-out meals business.