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The guest is the most important thing

“A sushi chef is like a bartender mixed with a fish sculptor,” says Cole. It’s the height of hospitality in that each bite is prepared purposefully for the customer and with an intimacy unparalleled in even the most open of kitchens. The role of a great sushi chef is to understand their guest’s tastes and cater to them without arrogance. “The best sushi chefs care about you as a particular individual. It’s like going to the dentist or a hair stylist,” says Kitamura.

A master chef will educate curious customers

Similar to how a craft bartender with a bad attitude can turn someone off of fancy cocktails, an unapproachable sushi chef isn’t doing the cuisine any favors. “My mission is to let people know about and enjoy our culture, which includes the art of sushi making and eating. The greatest sushi chefs have this same mentality and passion,” says Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. One element of the ambassadorial position is to explain techniques to help customers understand how much care is involved. “When I make a squid sushi, my guests will observe me make numerous slits on the squid. It’s very delicate work, the slits have to be even, not too deep, not too shallow. When I serve it, I explain to them that it is necessary to enjoy the softness of the fish,” says Yoshihiko Kousaka of Kosaka.

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Each knife has a specific purpose

The best sushi knives are made of iron rather than stainless steel and crafted with similar techniques used for samurai swords. Different knives have different purposes, and a master chef knows when and why to use each. “You wouldn’t go near bones with certain blades because they’re so soft you’d chip them,” says Cole.

Knives need to be insanely sharp

Keeping knives sharp is a craft all in its own. “Master sushi chefs will always sharpen their knives every day before service,” says Katsunori Kawaguchi of MOzen Bistro. This is important to ensure that cutting is a finesse action and not one driven by power. “If you use too much pressure while cutting the sushi it will affect the texture,” says Kawaguchi.

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Proper fish sourcing is crucial

When it comes to raw proteins, you can’t compromise on freshness and quality. “Buying fish from a reputable and trusted vendor is also key,” says Kawaguchi. Most top restaurants import fish from Japan’s biggest fish market (Tsukiji) and have personally vetted their suppliers. “I usually find the strength of each supplier, so I use supplier A for my tuna, supplier B for the sea urchins, and so on,” says Kosuaka.




“Fish that are processed alive require an even more specialized skill set

When you prepare shrimp, lobster, octopus, and mollusks, you need to use techniques such that you don’t trigger any of the hormones these creatures release as a defense mechanism when they’re attacked or feel in danger,”

What an incredibly Japanese attitude.

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