[Backdated to Thursday 3/13]
Last night Honey Bunny and I spontaneously decided to go out on a dinner date at our favorite local hole-in-the-wall sushi joint. What better way to celebrate on a Wednesday night than with fresh fish and a strictly BYOB alcohol policy? I love the omakase here and it was a momentous occasion– I had been here a few times with bff S and Honey Bunny even came here with his bff Z but this was the first time that he and I actually dined here together. We brought a six-pack of Asahi to share with the kitchen staff.
The food was fantastic but what made the evening extra special was that our counter seats afforded us the intimate opportunity to connect with our chef. He has a hilariously dry and sarcastic sense of humor. After an obviously painful exchange we overheard between him and a clueless patron, I had to ask him, “Tell me, does your soul die a little inside every time you have to make a California roll?” He looked me in the eye and said “Yes. No one had ever asked quite like that. But yes.” He then chuckled and continued handling the board of orders that was quickly filling up.
We talked about how I recently gave up office life in favor of Kitchen Life. His reply was that he was proud of me for diving in and we bonded over how different Kitchen Life is from any other career path. He asked that I was doing at the restaurant and casually sneaked in, “Would you be interested in becoming a sushi chef someday?” I mentioned that I had not really considered it, but I love to eat sushi and have a great appreciation for the art form. He nodded and carried on.
He kept us long past closing time, commenting that he likes customers like us and is happy to put in the extra hour of work. He served us live amaebi (sweet shrimp) four ways, live scallop just shucked from its shell, and ankimo (monkfish liver – the foie gras of the sea) among so much other delicious fish. We were so full!
At the end of the night, he told me that he’s been wanting to teach and train a female sushi chef. Wink wink. In the already male-dominated world of the kitchen, arguably the most difficult cuisine in which a woman could try to break through is sushi. He started with Lesson 1, holding up a daikon radish and stated, in a loud and slow voice, “THIS IS A DAIKON.” He then proceeded to take his super sharp knife (with a bolster made of water buffalo horn – it makes a difference, he insisted) and shave an ever-so-thin layer around the outside of the root. A slice so thin, he said, that he should be able to read a newspaper through it. Katsuramuki, it’s called. He told me that if I wanted to get into sushi, I would have to be able to do this. “Try it on a potato,” he suggested, giving me what seems to be my first homework assignment.
Before we left, he came out from behind the counter and gave us each a hug. He seems truly serious about the prospect of taking me on as an apprentice. I still want to stay at my current restaurant for as long as I can (I feel like there’s so much to learn there!) but I’m excited that being part of this world is already opening up these amazing opportunities. You can bet I’ll be buying a potato (or perhaps a daikon radish) on my next day off and practicing my knife skills. Maybe this is where my path will take me next!
PS: Because of the open kitchen, I was able to catch a glimpse into their version of Kitchen Life and I have to tell you — there are many surprising cultural similarities from one kitchen to another. Namely they WILL give each other dead-leg (walking up behind someone and pushing your knee into their knee to make it buckle under) and threaten to burn off each other’s arm hair with the blowtorch. Just another day in the life. I can see what Anthony Bourdain meant when he too was surprised that his story resonated so deeply in cooks and chefs the world over.