Learning Sushi

People always ask me when I’m finishing up a class, “Do you only teach (the subject of the class just ending)?” I inform them that my repertoire is actually much more vast than just the one class they have taken, and they should check out my classes page on my website to see more of what I teach. “However,” I warn them, “there are two things I don’t teach. Sushi and Cake Decorating.”

And I have a specific reason why I don’t teach those. Cake decorating I simply don’t teach because I hate it. I know lots of other people who love it, and want to learn it, and I have no problem with that. I don’t do it because I simply don’t like it. But I’ll be happy to get you in touch with an instructor who can teach you that if that’s what you want to learn.

Some day I’ll be able to do this…

But my lack of sushi classes stems not from a hatred of sushi making, but rather on a gross level of ignorance on my part. I simply don’t know how to make it! I took one day of sushi lessons in culinary school that I don’t think taught me much, and that was about 6 years ago. In the time since then, I think I’ve made sushi exactly zero times. Simply put, I want to teach sushi to people but I have to learn it myself first.

To that end, I recently took my first sushi making class at Hikaru Sushi in Arlington, VA. It was a small class of seven, and I was the first to arrive. I told them that I was a chef, and the instructor was instantly interested in why I, as a chef, was coming to his class. I informed him of my ignorance on the subject, and he took that in with a great smile. It is so rare to hear chefs admit ignorance on any cooking subject. I think he found this refreshing.

The class was a hands on class that covered how to cook the rice, and shape our very first rolls of sushi. We did the ever-popular (in the US) California rolls. I was excited to learn this of only because they are so popular, and because I figured I was getting the advanced lesson in making rice-on-the-outside sushi.

Learning how to cut the vegetables to the proper length and place them on the rolls.

“Not so,” our teacher told us. “The rice on the outside is the beginner sushi. The ones with the seaweed (nori) on the outside are the advanced ones.” He confessed it took him about two years of working on them to get the just right. We asked him to demo one for us, and in mere seconds he had a perfect avocado roll done. It was amazing, but we could all see how that was indeed more challenging.

But the real challenge of the class came when it leaked out that I was a chef. Everyone else there was in the same boat as my students usually are: people who love food and want to learn a little something more. But the pressure was on me when I came up alone to make my first-ever rolls. My fellow students all hushed to see how the chef would do. I tried to explain that I really didn’t know what I was doing any more than they did, but I could tell my protestations were falling on deaf ears.

So with great concentration, I began spreading the rice on my first sheet of nori. Nope, pushed too hard, and I mashed the rice. Sigh. So I worked on my second sheet, and it came out fine. Now came the rolling. Would I be able to turn out a nice, round roll? Would all the years of training in my fingers working gently with food pay off?

I went through the steps, flipping the bamboo rolling sheet as he had shown us and as all of the students had done before me. It reminded me of a magic trick where the magician puts his hands under a sheet, does a little something you can’t see, and then voila – the sheet is removed to see something wondrous you didn’t expect. Under my sheet of bamboo, my first sushi roll was taking shape, obscured from both my view, and from that of the class. I held my breath as the moment of truth arrived. I lifted the sheet and hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself….

My very first California Roll. It was delicious!

The roll was perfectly round and even. My fellow students applauded. Whew – I didn’t make a total fool of myself! I repeated the process with my second roll, and it too was a success. The chef made a joke that the next time he had a party, he’d contact me. I joked back with him that so long as it was a California Roll-only party, maybe I could help. 🙂

And that’s how chefs do their continuing education. We have to stay on top of things, and keep learning new things as well. I probably take about 1 class every 3 months to learn new things and see how others teach people how to cook. It’s all about staying on top of my game so I can bring the best classes and best cooking tricks to you.

But I’m still not quite ready to teach you sushi just yet…

Chef Matt

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