Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Advice on becoming a sushi chef


phan1
 Share

Recommended Posts

Like the topic says, I love sushi and want to get into sushi, but I'm having some issues since I feel like I'm at a cross-roads right now, and I'm looking for advice.

One of the most important things for me is developing skills that won't get me replaced by the dishwasher. That's why sushi really appeals to me. So how difficult is sushi, really? It's hard to tell whether or not it's just Japanese pretentious BS or if it's truly difficult, and I know sushi standards vary from place to place. I worked for a bit at Roy's and they wouldn't even let me touch the sushi station. The guy running the station even proclaimed it as not being a "line cook position".

But I've staged at a place where the sushi line cook used rubber gloves since it was easier to keep the rice from sticking to his hands and he mashed the rice down on the seaweed paper pretty hard. I asked if sushi rice was difficult to make (which I know it is) and the answer was a straightfoward "no". I obviously never came back after staging that day. But I've even asked another sushi chef at a reputable place and asked them if it was difficult and they gave me a straightfoward "no".

Let's be honest here; I ain't going to work at Masa in NY anytime soon. I'm just looking to get into a quality kitchen and serve quality sushi. None of this "wearing rubber gloves BS". But I'm not going to be filleting fresh fish for sushi either; likely just using pre-filleted, quality, frozen fish. I haven't been in the restaurant business for long, but I do know how things are done to a certain extent.

But getting important culinary skill sets is really the most important thing, particularly since I didn't go to culinary school and I've only been cooking for 1 full year. But I'm already getting very impatient and my next decision will be an important one, cause that's what I see myself doing for the next couple years. I'm a bit torn in 2 directions: 1) going into sushi or 2) simply trying to get into the best kitchen I can get into period (likely French/American). The problem is that the two seem worlds apart, and I'm having trouble deciding what path to choose. I'm leaning toward sushi cause that's what I personnally enjoy eating but I also don't want to end up being seen as a 1-trick pony since sushi seems like such a "niche" job. Advice?

Edited by phan1 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It kinda sounds like you want a sushi job that is not too hard (requires years of training & incredible finesse) but not too easy (dishwasher can do it). There may be a happy medium, I sort of doubt it but would be curious to find out. I'm sure all of the sushi guys in most places have gone through some training, and I think there is even a sushi school somewhere in the US - the magic of google suggests 2 or 3. If cooking rice is not difficult, then how difficult is putting 'pre-filleted, quality, frozen fish' on it? My favorite (read cheap but still decent) kaiten sushi place has a couple of Mexican guys putting pre-sliced fish on pre-formed rice balls (not to say that I haven't worked with amazing Mexican cooks and chefs, just that these guys don't appear to have formal sushi training and appear to be mere assemblers). I think asking if cooking rice is difficult is a deceptive question. Is cooking anything really that difficult? No, it just requires a certain amount of care, understanding, technique and consistency. I think tempering chocolate and making mousses are easy - you have to pay attention and do things in a certain way, but once you understand they are not hard. Other people may look at those things and think they could never do them.

What do you enjoy and not enjoy about line cooking and western food? What is it that you are getting impatient with? What attracts you to the world of sushi, and if you don't picture yourself butchering whole fish, what do you see yourself doing and how long will you be satisfied? What culinary skills could you learn in each type of establishment?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It kinda sounds like you want a sushi job that is not too hard (requires years of training & incredible finesse) but not too easy (dishwasher can do it). 

Oh no no no no. I WANT it to be hard. REAL hard. That means I get to learn a better skillset! :) It's just that I'm curious about weather or it's as hard as people make it seem. We've all heard stories about Japanese sushi chefs having to go through rigorous training to become sushi chefs. It's just that I'm curious about weather or not it's really that hard or if it's all just a part of the lore of the sushi chef. I mean, is Pablo the sushi linecook really doing the same thing that a master sushi chef is doing? I know Pablo can cook a perfect medium-rare steak just as well as Thomas Keller. Can he make standard maki and nigiri just as well as Morimoto?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It kinda sounds like you want a sushi job that is not too hard (requires years of training & incredible finesse) but not too easy (dishwasher can do it). 

Oh no no no no. I WANT it to be hard. REAL hard. That means I get to learn a better skillset! :) It's just that I'm curious about weather or it's as hard as people make it seem. We've all heard stories about Japanese sushi chefs having to go through rigorous training to become sushi chefs. It's just that I'm curious about weather or not it's really that hard or if it's all just a part of the lore of the sushi chef. I mean, is Pablo the sushi linecook really doing the same thing that a master sushi chef is doing? I know Pablo can cook a perfect medium-rare steak just as well as Thomas Keller. Can he make standard maki and nigiri just as well as Morimoto?

It seems like there is just that level of finesse and perfection that is hard to define or quantify. There may be a bit of mythology to it, perhaps just out of the respect the Japanese have for the fish and for the rice and the importance of them in diet & culture. On the one hand, it's just fish and rice. I love sushi but every now and then I kind of trip out on I just spent 60 bucks on fish an rice? On the other hand the master chef is going to have a lot more knowledge about a lot more kinds of fish. Who do you want preparing your fugu? Good chefs are constantly learning and refining their skills no matter what the cuisine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I make Sushi at home and think I do a very good job at it. I don't think I produce restaurant quality but come pretty darn close. Nigiri is pretty straightforward and easy. Maki took quite a bit of practice but I mastered it pretty quick.

I have to say the only real issue or lets say task is indeed making the rice. Well lets say not making the rice, but lets say seasoning it perfectly. I feel that is the art to great Sushi rice and it is indeed an art in my opinion. I do applaud your desire to branch into this cuisine. I have thought the same many times myself. Good luck on your endeavor.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are different levels of sushi just like there are different levels of fine dining or any other cuisine. Most Americans wouldnt know the difference between sushi mae by a master and sushi made by a guy working the sushi counter at your average rice dive. In this country people want rolls...i.e. cali roll, philly roll or the likes. Rolls with heavy sauces and rich flavors. There really isnt money in "real sushi", which is sad bcuz its amazing. If you want to do it right...go to Japan and work (a very long route, but the best). Do a search for Uchi restaurant in Austin TX...Chef Tyson Cole's place. He trained in Japan. Anybody can do run-of-the-mill sushi...and sadly,thats what sells. To really separate yourself, it's about more than the sushi, its about finding a base that will buy it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I live in Japan, and I've eaten my share of top sushi when younger, and a good share of cheap sushi now that I'm older and more impecunious. Even the convenience store sushi is not bad these days...though not that good either.

BUT. When I'm outside Japan, I don't willingly eat sushi made by non-Japanese or by a shop that doesn't specialize in Japanese food. It's not snobbery, it's just too many bad experiences. Chain-store staffed with Korean students? Even my kids won't eat the sushi they sell. Platter of sushi as an entree in a western restaurant? Sorry, but every time, I've found that the bread basket was a better option, even if somebody else already ate all the butter. Dry, loosely-packed, underflavored rice with raggedly cut flabby fish...it may even look nicely presented at a casual glance, especially if you haven't eaten much sushi, but it surely doesn't look or taste appetizing to me.

Sushi takes not only skill but also practice, for about the same reasons that patisserie takes training - the basics have to be good, and the presentation has to be perfect...and you have to be fast and efficient, with a good eye for style.

It's not at all impossible, but it's the kind of skill that is rarely perfected by the part-timer. (Yes, people make great sushi/pasta etc at home, but not at professional speed and with professional timing, probably!).

In Japan, while some people do get apprenticeships directly with shops, the usual approach is to go to a senmon-gakkou (private training school offering vocational skills courses) like this one (know nothing about this school, it's just an example). You need to get the skills, often taking exams for qualifications offered by bodies such as the Japan Sushi Instructors Association.

Then they look for jobs making sushi, and start to claw their way up the ranks to the top jobs, which tend to be hotel sushi bars, about as high as you can go without opening your own shop. Think in terms of 5 years for a good job, 10 years at least to being able to set up on your own.

Since you need to know your raw ingredients very well, some of the best sushi I have eaten has been outside the big cities. Although these areas are likely to be more conservative about taking on foreign staff, and you would need Japanese, they could be a useful training ground.

So...learn about rice. Learn about fish (not necessarily just raw fish, all types of fish preparation and cookery would help you). Learn Japanese, and listen to what your Japanese friends say when you eat sushi together.

I'd like to hear about training in sushi outside Japan - what I've heard hasn't been good, but has anybody actually visited or attended one of these overseas sushi schools?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a sushi school in california....the book "the Zen of fish", which I think has a new title "the Story of Sushi", is a very good book about the history of sushi in this country. It also follows a student attending the sushi school. Worth the read.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You might also look for a mentor, particularly someone who might allow you to stâge at their place one day a week.

You can actually learn a lot of beginner stuff on youtube, if you search around, particularly on the Japan site. I like Itasan, his

is very good. But, there are hundreds more out there.

I'd also try to learn a bit about Japanese culture, just to help fit in a bit better while learning.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

It's your lucky day.

I have actually done exactly what you are trying to do, but it was pure luck.

I was/am a line cook at a place in Tuscaloosa Alabama that also does sushi. I worked my ass off in that kitchen and the head sushi guy noticed. One day he just came up to me and said "Kevin, Chris is leaving in 6 months, we will need a replacement. Are you interested?" And the rest is history.

As far as difficulty. Rice IS easy. Any moron can make the rice good. What's hard is perfect rice. The first thing you will do is learn how to make the rice, and my instructions were, 'wash it till the water runs clear, put it in the steamers, and fill the water to the number 18 line, wait 40 minutes, put it in the hungiri (sp?) add 1.25 cups of our vinegar/sugar mix per steamer, make sure it's mixed very well, wait 10 minutes, flip the rice, wait 10 more, put it in the rice containers for service.' No, our rice is not perfect, but it is good. Some days it's really good. It really just depends on who makes it that day and if they actually take the time to taste the rice they made to see if it needs more or less vinegar. And also if they realized that one steamer is slightly wider than the other so it needs a little more water due to evaporation.

Sheesh I didn't mean to write that much about just the rice.

Our fish comes in half frozen, half fresh. It depends on the fish. But we are generally considered the best sushi in town hands down just because the fish we order is of higher quality. It does not come in blocks, it comes in giant sides which we have to trim down ourselves. When we get mackerel in it comes in whole and we'll come in on an off day and fillet all of them and debone them and then pickle them, and after that's all done we will freeze them until needed and I honestly can't taste the difference of the frozen ones and the first ones we use which don't get frozen. It's only really noticeable if you refreeze it, which causes ice crystals to form.

Actually rolling the sushi and forming the nigiri is not too terribly hard. The hard part is doing it fast while making it look good. My boss is literally 3-4 times as fast as I am if he really goes all out and it all still comes out looking great, but he can't only go that fast for so long because it really tires him out. Like anything, speed comes with time. I am finally able to go reasonably fast while having everything look good. It's all about knowing exactly what your hands are going to do 8-10 steps before you actually do it. Probably the hardest part and the part which takes the most finesse is sashimi. I am still not allowed to make a plate of sashimi that is more than one fish, and for basic tuna sashimi plates my boss will still look at me every time I make one to make sure I am doing it correctly. To me, good sashimi presentation is the hardest thing to learn.

One important thing you have to learn which you really may never think of is how to interact with people. You never really have to deal with customers as a line cook but as a sushi chef I really have to be a waiter also. It really teaches you how to force conversations and such.

Hope this helps and isn't too wordy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
Hope this helps and isn't too wordy.

Awsome, thanks for the informative post! Can I ask you how long it took you until you could keep up with the rest of the sushi line cooks? I'm actually doing sushi training right now and I have to say it's F'n hard! I can do it, but I'm too slow. Just spreading rice on the seaweed for Maki will take me 20 seconds if I'm lucky. It takes "Pablo" about 6 seconds to do that. I've only been at it for about 5 days, but I'm already impatient and wondering when the heck I'll be able to do it as good as Pablo.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you want to be one of the many, common mediocre sushi cooks, then your in the right frame of mind. If you want to truly learn the craft and develop your skills and become a respectable sushi cook, then stop asking "how long?" and time frames and just put in the time and discipline to perfect the techiques, not just perform them adequately. Anybody can learn to make mediocre sushi quickly.

Edited by Timh (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you want to be one of the many, common mediocre sushi cooks, then your in the right frame of mind. If you want to truly learn the craft and develop your skills and become a respectable sushi cook, then stop asking "how long?" and time frames and just put in the time and discipline to perfect the techiques, not just perform them adequately. Anybody can learn to make mediocre sushi quickly.

Are you a sushi line cook much less a sushi line cook? Sorry, but when the guys around me are slammed during a lunch rush, I better make myself really useful or else I'm not going to be able to be there for very long. There is a balance between perfection and getting things DONE. Good sushi is all about your mise anyway. With good mise, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between sushi made by Morimoto or Pablo. And for the record, Pablo's a total badass who's been doing it for years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well then, you're a Pablo.

I spent 2 yrs in apprenticeship cooking in Japan. Did I prepare sushi? No. I worked in the prep area learning the basics that helped the chefs do their job. Back here I could be a pablo, anywhere.

Edited by Timh (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hope this helps and isn't too wordy.

Awsome, thanks for the informative post! Can I ask you how long it took you until you could keep up with the rest of the sushi line cooks? I'm actually doing sushi training right now and I have to say it's F'n hard! I can do it, but I'm too slow. Just spreading rice on the seaweed for Maki will take me 20 seconds if I'm lucky. It takes "Pablo" about 6 seconds to do that. I've only been at it for about 5 days, but I'm already impatient and wondering when the heck I'll be able to do it as good as Pablo.

I've been at it 2-3 shifts a week (back and forth between the kitchen) for about 9 months now. My speed has probably doubled or tripled but if we ever get REALLY in the weeds my boss "puts it into 6'th gear" and becomes stupid fast. The hardest part for me (speed wise) is still putting the rice on the nori. Yeah I can do it, and it looks good, but somehow the two other guys I work with have like a rice mind control ray that makes it lay on the seaweed in about 5 seconds. My boss can do 2 at a time also...

Sushi takes time. A lot of time. It seems so deceptively simple, and it is simple to do a basic roll, but learning the small nuances about it are what make it a true art. I finally figured out that I was putting TOO MUCH tuna in my inside out tuna maki rolls. The ratio of tuna to rice just gave it a flavor that flat out wasn't as good as a standard tekka maki. It's little things like that. Also, doing perfect cuts for sashimi and nigiri, every time, while plating it thoughtfully, and creating discourse with customers, while also banging out the maki rolls is a true skill that takes years upon years to do well.

All in all if you want a time frame I'd say use the old 10,000 hours addage. "There's one figure that everyone takes away from Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers: 10,000 hours. That, he says, is the difference between success and non-success, genius and mediocrity. Anyone from the Beatles to Bill Gates who has succeeded has done so on the back of at least 10,000 hours of practice."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 6 months later...

Hi, I am a chef from Australia and looking to take my career in the way of sushi chef as I have a great appreciation in working with seafood and Japanese food and culture in general. Does anyone have advice on what my kit should contain, where i should focus my studies, how to find proper mentoring, expectant future salaries, overseas opportunities and anything else you think may help me towards my goal,

thanks heaps in advance,

Jays

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's just that I'm curious about weather or it's as hard as people make it seem.

No job on this planet is ever as hard as people make it seem, and I'd include brain surgery in that statement. Brain surgeons train for years and years jumping through hoops, only to later use just a tiny fraction of that information on a day to day basis in their actual jobs. One of the biggest jobs that most human beings have is convincing everyone else that their job is so difficult and complicated that it requires years of training and/or membership in some sort of trade organization to be able to do it.

To say that making sushi is included in this rule of life is a hideous understatement. The making of the sushi won't be that difficult, but getting Japanese sushi experts to be willing to train you? Of course that's going to be difficult! Why would they want the rest of the world to realize that with a month's practice you could match what they do?

Good luck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

does anyone agree with me when i say that the way we have been treating the oceans and with the amount of seafood people eat these day that in 20 to 30 years from now sushi might not be the best business to be in

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I'm working as a sushi chef right now. And my point of view is to be able to become one. Is does require a bit of training and lot of hard work and the most important is love. Because some where along the line you will be face a very big challenge. Such as a customer comment and co-worker. Because sushi chef is the kind of job the all the customer can see the way you work and it extremely require a lot of multi- tasking skill. But nothing is impossible if we try hard enough. I'm still keep trying everyday I would said that be a sushi chef is not that easy but it the same as try to be a good chef that is not easy either. It does had a school to attend and learn a basic knowledge. Like the one that I graduated from " sushi chef institute" but still after graduated you will feel like you got a basic down. And when you start working in the sushi bar it all about speed, clean, and the quality of your final product. My experience when I got a job interview they will look at the quality of your sushi, how fast you can make it, the cut of the fish, and finally how you skill at " fillet fresh fish".

I think if you love sushi go for it. But if you want to do it because you learn from somebody that this path going to earn a lot of money. Then don't because it not going to be a lot of money when you start ^^ so god luck

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...