Why it Takes a Decade (at Least) to Become Head Sushi Chef

22 March, 2019

Sushi, at first glance, seems cinch enough. Rice, raw fish, seaweed. The uninitiated among us, however, deeply underestimate the skill and difficulty involved.

Chefs themselves say it’s gruelling, with the key being consistency, which comes from the knife work deployed, the quality control of ingredients, storage of the fish, and the perfection of rice (many restaurants guard their recipe like treasure).

Selecting the seafood

A head sushi chef knows quality like no other. When buying fresh whole fish, it is not enough to assess it with your eyes: you’ve got to touch it, pressing a finger below the fin and watching as each spike reacts to the pressure of your finger. This means it’s fresh, for the muscles have not yet deteriorated. Clear, bright, bulging eyes also signal freshness.

Cutting the fish

Some chefs liken fish prep to performing surgery. Prior to becoming a sushi chef, one must master the skill of preparing and filleting different types of fish and shellfish, wielding uber-sharp steel knives to remove innards and cut the flesh into consistent pieces.

Perfecting the rice

This step calls for shortgrain rice and a meticulously measured ratio of rice vinegar, salt and sugar incorporated with a wooden paddle. Then, the chef continues folding and fanning the rice until cool. With controlled hand gestures, the rice is then formed into mounds that will hold the fish.

As if to humble any young gun with kitchen aspirations, revered 92-year-old Jiro Ono (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi) believes that even after 67 years, he has yet to perfect the art.

While it’s traditionally true that a decade is how long it takes to become a legitimate sushi chef, new courses have sprung up to meet the demand for a faster way there. Regardless, the ancient art of sushi making is a huge commitment and not to be underestimated!

Watch sushi chefs in action at Akira Sushi Chatswood.