Sushi Chef

Sushi Chef

Sushi Guy

Minneapolis, MN

Male, 37

Worked as a sushi chef for thirteen years and held two head chef positions during that time. Cut my teeth in Seattle and performed most of my career in Minneapolis.

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Last Answer on November 21, 2014

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Is there honestly THAT much difference in quality between the fish served at mid-range vs high-end places? I live in NYC and sure I like the sushi at pricier places, but honestly blindfolded I often couldn't tell the difference vs. a mid-range place.

Asked by Jeter almost 10 years ago

Objectively, there can be a substantial difference in fish quality between different restaurants. Although, I'm hesistant to make the assumption that any given higher-end restaurant would be better than the emblematic mid-level joint.

But if an upscale restarurant has a renowned reputation, I would safely bet that they have a nice fish selection too. And reputable restaurants generally attract better chef talent.

My tip would be to learn how to properly eat sushi. Becoming a good sushi eater will quickly enable you to recognize quality.

How to eat better: Don't put wasabi directly in your soy sauce, instead apply a small amount directly to the fish. Mixing wasabi and soy sauce together contaminates both of their flavors. Dip the fish part of the nigiri in the soy sauce, not the rice. If the rice soaks up too much of the soy it creates an imbalance in flavors. Don't use too much wasabi. It's suppose to create a nice accent to the flavors, not be the primary thing you are tasting. When using too much soy or wasabi, you are covering up many of the nuanced flavors of the fish. 

Please don't put ginger on top of a piece of nigiri or sashimi. It is a palette cleanser like bread at a wine tasting. What you are effectively doing is taking the piece of bread and dropping it in your wine glass and then drinking it together.

Special sushi rolls are delicious, but it's sort of sushi for people who don't like sushi (that was their origin). After you slather a roll with eel sauce and spicy mayonaise, it practically doesn't matter what kind of fish is in there. It's analagous to dilluting your Johnny Walker Blue with Coke Zero. I love fun rolls, but they only make up about 10% of what I eat. 

I can't emphasize how great of an experience it is to have a perfectly shaped nigiri, where the rice is perfectly seasoned and is at the proper temperature of about 90 degrees F paired with a thin slice of chilled fish. Use just a light touch of soy and all the flavors harmonize like an orchestra in your mouth. The mouth feel of the different textures, the feeling of the rice breaking for the first time, and the sensation of the different temperatures completes the experience.

 

 

 

OMG, that escolar thing happened to me too and RUINED pants. Found the answer online. I also learned that a lot of sushi places serve escolar (b/c it's so good) but mislabel it as 'whitefish' or 'butterfish'. Why is it banned in Japan but not here?

Asked by George over 9 years ago

I don't know. Health officals are aware of the issue though. The health department in my city makes restaurants place a disclaimer on the menu about the over-consumption of that fish.  

You bring up a good point on fish naming conventions. There are none. Fish can go by many names and this can be a source of confusion. Some restaurants will even call escolar white tuna even though that name already universally describes albacore tuna. Plus escolar is not even a part of the tuna family. I understand it's more marketable to call something tuna because tuna is wildly popular, but it crosses an ethical line for me.

What qualifies a fish as "sushi grade"?

Asked by darius almost 10 years ago

There is no formal FDA regulation in this country to officially label something as sushi grade. But most fish needs to undergo an FDA required temperature treatment to eliminate any parasites. The fish needs to spend a week at a temperature of -4 F, or for 15 hours at -31 F. Wild salmon is especially important to undergo this process, because it is a salt water to fresh water fish. Tuna is an exception and doesn't need freezing; it is considered a clean fish.

Sushi bars in my experience, scoff at the idea of temperature treating the fish, because some of the seafood can get very beat up through the freezing process, and because other countries do not have these requirements. I don't have a formal opinion on this, but if you are pregnant, stick to cooked fish. Otherwise there is a good chance you are eating something that hasn't been frozen.

The fish needs to obviously be "fresh": not smell or be sticky in any way, the meat should have a rebound to it when pressed upon, the whole fish needs to have clear eyes and scales that are firmly in place. I put fresh in quotes because this is a complicated issue. Americans (I'm American too) put too much emphasis on meat never being frozen. The reality is that never frozen fish might have been caught in the middle of the Pacific ocean one day, sits on the boat for a week, comes back to harbor and sits for a bit more, then finally gets loaded on a plane or a truck and makes it way across the country to a restaurant. There could be a lot of time between when it was caught to when it lands on your plate. Some fish is cleaned and frozen immediately after it is caught and this could argueably be considered fresher than the first scenerio. Also, some fishing vessels employ super freezing which drops the temperature of the fish to something insane like -70 C. I've had some of the best toro (fatty tuna) that underwent this process.

The bottom line is that it is up to the fishmonger or sushi chef to determine if the fish is safe to eat and is of the highest quality.

 

How can you as the chef tell if sushi has gone bad? Just the smell? Do different fish types go bad quicker than others?

Asked by Speko almost 10 years ago

Sometimes it is very easy to tell. A strong smell or a sticky texture are definitive deal breakers. Sometimes the initial clues can be visual like a change in color. Fish tends to lose it's vibrancy and brown as it ages. This can be misleading, because some frozen tunas undergo a carbon monoxide treatment for color retention and they are like the McDonald's hamburgers that never seem to age. The last thing we'll do it stick it in our mouths and taste it. This elicts either a nod of approval or an abrupt spit festival at the garbage.

Any yes, some fish turns quicker than others.

Did you see Jiro Dreams of Sushi and what did you think?

Asked by RB almost 10 years ago

Not yet. When the film came out my sushi career was winding down and I was getting burned out. The last thing I wanted to do was go home and watch a documentary about work. But it's in my Netflix queue and I plan to watch it soon. I heard it's good. 

Can certain types of fish cause anal seepage? I ate a nice platter of sushi once and it gave me "sharts". That has never happened before. Well once when I had a fiber one bar, but that's a different story. What gives?

Asked by Momma Bear over 9 years ago

The culprit was most likely a fish called escolar (mutsu in Japanese). It is bright white and has a buttery texture. Some of the oils in the fish are indigestible by the human body and if enough is consumed it can cause intestinal distress. It usually takes a day or two for the seepage to begin and once it does you better stick an oshibori down your pants because the seepage permanently stains. Fun fact: escolar has been banned in Japan since 1977 because of its potential side effects. 

In my experience, eating a few pieces is fine. But anymore than that and you start to play a game of adult diaper roulette.

Is there a trick to making the seaweed paper roll nicely? Every time I've tried to make it at home, mine just flakes and cracks. (I just use store-bought stuff, is that why? Do you make your own?)

Asked by Carolyn over 9 years ago

The first way I would troubleshoot this would be to buy higher quality nori (seaweed). I would find a Japanese or Asian market that offers a nice selection and give some higher-end seaweed a try. I've had a similar experience with low quality nori.

Also, use a bamboo mat to roll. The bamboo mat will help distribute the pressure you are applying, and it will make tears less likely than if you used your fingers.

If all else fails, just cover the seaweed completely with rice and flip it over. Put the ingredients on the bare seaweed side and make an inside out roll. If you use a bamboo mat for an inside out roll, wrap it in plastic wrap first.

Rolling sushi isn't easy. I have 13 years of experience and still screw up rolls sometimes. There are many factors that go into the rolling equation: temperature of the rice, stickiness of the rice, quality of the seaweed, how much filling you are trying to use, what the filling is made of, is the cutting board or bamboo mat damp? Be mindful of these variables and figure out how they affect the final product.

Is there a stigma against sushi restaurants that have non-Asian chefs? (And if there is, is it justified?)

Asked by Bocephus over 9 years ago

I think there can be a stigma to varying degrees with non-Asian chefs. Is it justified. No, it's unfair and racist. Is every graduate from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) of French background? Do I need a German mechanic to work on my Mercedes? Does my salsa instructor need to be from Latin America? Do I need to be of Greek decent to use math properly? If you want a Japanese chef making your food then go to Japan if it makes you feel better.

Many non-Japanese Asians make sushi too. That's like a German making Italian food. But people don't seem to respond to that as much.

I've seen some mediocre Japanese chefs and some brilliant Caucasian or Latino chefs. It doesn't matter. Japanese people typically don't grow up eating sushi all the time either and have a significant point of reference; it's expensive there too.

What was the best piece of fish you ever ate, and where was it?

Asked by annabanana over 9 years ago

I don't really have a favorite piece of fish of all-time, but my favorites are o-toro, the fattiest of the tuna bellies (looks like glistening bacon), sea urchin when it is firm and sweet, and mirigai (known as giant clam or geoduck).

When I see the fish wrapped in saran wrap behind the sushi bar, how long has it typically been there and how long will it keep before you have to chuck it? Do they just leave it like that overnight?

Asked by pierce over 9 years ago

It's actually a good thing they do that, even though I strongly dislike the practice. Imagine if you had meat exposed in your refrigerator; meat on a plate completely uncovered. Then imagine you open and close the refrigerator door over a hundred times in a night. The meat's exterior will quickly dry out and that is what can happen with the seafood inside the showcases. Restaurants wrap the fish in plastic to limit air exposure. For the fish to look good while wrapped, the chef needs to wrap the fish precise and tight so that it has a clean appearance.

It sounds like a win/win, but in practice when the restaurant gets busy the chef doesn't have time to properly rewrap the fish tightly each time and the showcase ends up looking really trashy. It's like looking at a row of unmade beds. Plastic hangs loose and the juice from the fish lines the draping plastic.

The best case scenario is that the restaurant is really busy and doesn't need to do this. Or they might do this at the beginning of the night and then discard the plastic wrap when the rush hits. Food is such a visual experience and whatever the customer is exposed to needs to look amazing and appetizing. It's a no-brainer but you'd be surprised.

The showcases are not meant to be over-night refrigeration devices. Restaurants will transfer the fish to a cooler and clean out the showcases at the end of the night.





I saw a documentary about giant tuna being overfished which may lead to the end of tuna sushi in the near future. Is that a legit concern?

Asked by Dre over 9 years ago



Hi there! the first sushi restaraunt i went to served some rolls with crispy rice on the outside(not tempura roll)-Its what made me fall in love with sushi-have you ever heard of this? Ive never been able to fin it at any other restaraunt. :(

Asked by Sarah almost 5 years ago

 

Is there actually any benefit to using chopsticks? I get it. Sushi's Japanese. They use chopsticks there. Always seemed weird that we'd be stuck with a dumb eating utensil just because we like their food item.

Asked by BJ over 9 years ago

 

What's the danger in eating fish that has gone bad. Just food poisoning, or can you catch worse stuff because it's raw?

Asked by NYC over 9 years ago

 

What's the markup on sushi (cost you pay for the fish vs what it sells for)? Are some types more profitable than others?

Asked by Vieri1 over 9 years ago

 

My ahi tuna saku is sashimi grade. After defrosted it has this rainbow sheen on it! It smells fine but doesn't look right... I had it before with no sheen. What is this and should I throw it away?????

Asked by Linda almost 8 years ago

 

Is it true that there's fish types that are lethal if not cut right and have you ever served one?

Asked by Chary804 over 9 years ago

 

I want to buy a carbon steel yanagiba knife as a gift for someone who likes to catch and sashimi his own fish. Is there a knife you would recommend for under $120?

Asked by AYL over 7 years ago

 

How long can I leave takeout sushi in the fridge? Sometimes I feel even the next morning it tastes funny.

Asked by Dan over 9 years ago

 

What about ginger makes it an effective pallete cleanser? Is there anything else that would work just as well?

Asked by R.E.M. over 9 years ago

 

I'm applying to culinary schools. Do some have specialized sushi programs, or is it something most schools will offer courses in?

Asked by Curtis over 9 years ago

 

What percentage of your fish do you wind up having to throw out because it goes bad?

Asked by Oakland about 9 years ago

 

What's different about sushi rice compared to regular white rice?

Asked by David about 9 years ago

 

Would rather be paid hourly or a % of the Production with an extra % paid on rolls you create

Asked by Sushi a GoGo over 3 years ago