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Requirements to Become a Sushi Chef

Anuja Marathe Kanhere
Being a sushi chef is not an easy job. You need to have some artistic skills to match your cooking talent. Here is a brief overview of this job for all aspiring sushi chefs.
Sushi is a traditional dish from Japanese cuisine made by fermenting rice and fish together. Some popular sushi types include Nigirizushi, Makizushi, Temakizushi, Chirashizushi, Inarizushi, Narezushi, Oshizushi and a westernized version of sushi.
Most of the sushi preparations include some or most of the following ingredients: fish (salmon, eel, octopus, tuna, etc), white or brown rice, wasabi, soy sauce, seaweed, pickled ginger, crabs, shrimp, sea urchin, tempura, caviar, avocado, cucumber and asparagus. Here is an insight on how to become a professional sushi chef.

Professional Culinary Education

A traditional Japanese sushi chef spends approximately 8 to 10 years of his life perfecting his sushi skills. However, new culinary courses at various universities across the US offer you a diploma for sushi expertise in a span of not more than 2 to 3 years. Some restaurants permit their existing chefs to enroll for 6 months long crash courses on sushi art.
With the growing popularity of sushi, there is high demand for chefs who know all about different versions of Asian cuisine along with an additional expertise in Japanese and sushi styles.
One can enroll for an authentic Japanese style sushi chef course at an approximate fee of $11000. However, considering the demand for this delicacy, one can easily expect to recover the fees over a short period of time.

Basic Skills of a Sushi Chef

  • Acquaintance with Japanese and general Asian cuisines
  • Formal education in sushi art
  • Knife skills and good presentation skills
  • Excellent skills of verbal communication
  • Ability to control and handle the prescribed hygiene standards at the kitchen station.
  • Ability to multi-task responsibilities in colleague's absence or during peak hours at the restaurant.
  • Ability to innovate and create new recipes of sushi.

Extra Skills

  • Chefs are expected to have a thorough knowledge about Japanese cuisine and culture.
  • Chefs are expected to use only authentic Japanese ingredients and cooking sauces to ensure perfection in taste.
  • The art of perfectly fermenting fish is really important too, since sushi needs to acquire umami taste.
  • Chefs need to have a fair idea about types of side dishes (noodles, rice, etc.) that would be most suitable for the fish chosen by guests.
  • There are a few mushroom preparations that are considered to be sacred by the Japanese. Chefs are expected to get well acquainted with their recipes.
  • It is important to keep in mind that fast food is the food culture of this century. In some high-end sushi restaurants, chefs might be expected to chop, dice and grill the sushi preparation right at the guest table. Chefs need to practice this skill, since these days many restaurants give importance to fast or flash food.

Sushi - A Man's World

As far as sushi is concerned, it has always been dominated by men on both sides of the counter. In most of Japanese sushi restaurants, female sushi chefs are banned on the pretext that they have warmer hands than men, which is not good for handling the fish.
Others say that, the usage of cosmetics and perfumes by female chef spoils the flavors of sushi. Now however, men are losing the monopoly in sushi kitchens. There has been a steep rise in number of female sushi chefs in Japan as well as the rest of the world.

Pay Package

Sushi chefs have a high demand. An experienced chef can expect to earn anything between $20000 to $40000 depending upon his skills. The amount of pay will differ with the ratings and standard of restaurant you are employed with. However, with growing popularity of sushi, one can always expect a huge hike in the salary of sushi chefs in the near future.
Japanese food experts and critics have always emphasized on craftsmanship. So if you love sushi and have all the required skill sets in you, then there is nothing to stop you from becoming a master sushi chef!