What Does It Take to Be a Sushi Chef? When you think of Japan, you probably think of a few things: a white flag with a crimson circle, vibrant cherry blossoms during full bloom, or even a platter topped with the country’s most renowned dish: sushi. Sushi chefs are judged to some of the finest culinary standards in the world since it is such a treasured Japanese symbol. Let’s have a peek at what it’s like to work as a sushi chef in the real world.
Because of the unique attention to tradition and perfection, training to be a sushi chef differs from training for many other culinary positions. Sushi chefs spend years — even decades — honing every stage of the process, from slicing veggies to plating the finished dish. Before working at a Japanese institution, most chefs typically train in restaurants, study culinary skills in school, or learn through an apprenticeship.
So, how to become a sushi chef, aspiring to wear the famed Itamae’s white apron and chef’s hat? The quick answer is that it takes years of training, starting from the very beginning. This is not an exaggeration; in Japan, it is expected that you will begin your career as a cleaner, progress to rice maker, and then complete your apprenticeships as a Wakita (that means “near the cutting board”). This is an important occasion, and a learner can spend years attempting to master the use of their personal set of sushi knives following this. If a pupil is considered talented enough, years of practice and instruction will eventually lead to them becoming an Itamae.
When a chef progresses from line cook to sous chef to sushi chef, they continue to hone their talents and put what they’ve learned in school into practice on a daily basis. Sushi chefs must pay attention to every element within the roll while keeping food safety, flavor, and texture at the center of the sushi experience. Sushi chefs must also have outstanding knife skills and culinary knowledge in order to know exactly where a section of each species of fish to cut, how to move the blade, and also how thin to slice them.
If everything seems a bit too serious, that’s because it is. In Japan, becoming a sushi chef is highly regarded and respected. Ingredients, knives, and clients must all be handled with accuracy, elegance, and charm by an Itamae. It is a manifestation of Japanese culture’s profound regard for honor and respect.
Sushi chefs take so many steps like any other culinary expert in the kitchen, despite the fact that the nature of the job necessitates tremendous concentration, a steady hand, and precise assembly. Sushi chefs multitask cooking, cutting, wrapping, and plating since certain rolls require cooked fish or fried veggies, which means they are continuously on their feet. Sushi chefs have a distinct kitchen organization than most other chefs, so they may often engage with customers right at the sushi bar, delivering professional culinary advice and suggesting specific sushi products.
The title of a chief sushi chef is exceedingly prestigious in Japan, and it is not given out lightly. The top sushi chef, known in Japanese as Itamae, which translates to “in front of the board,” is ultimately the one in front of the cutting board, in charge of all sushi manufacturing. In traditional sushi restaurants in Japan, the Itamae is even in responsible of entertaining visitors as well as determining the final cost.