"Cuz teacher, there are things that I don't want to learn…"

by Katie Pizzuto on January 14, 2009

in Dining,Restaurants,Sushi,Uncategorized

I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again if for no other reason than I like to re-read my well-honed truisms: Cooking is about control and eating is about submission. Unfortunately, for the most part, few people like to truly be in a position of complete submission. Relinquishing control doesn’t come easy to Americans, because we’ve gotten spoiled by the likes of folks like the marketing gurus over at Burger King that tell us we can have it “our way.” Nonetheless, for as much as we’ve gotten accustomed to having salt & pepper shakers perpetually within reach (sometimes accompanied by ketchup and steak sauce), we don’t often see that in higher-end restaurants. And unless we have a not-so-subtle addiction to sodium chloride, we don’t usually ask for salt after our entrees are brought out, either. Why? Aren’t we assuming that the chef in an establishment like that will know how to properly season food? Of course we are, because we TRUST them.

Ethan Pines for The Wall Street Journal

Ethan Pines for The Wall Street Journal

Unfortunately, when Americans were being introduced to sushi in the 1960s, many Los Angeles restaurants were doling out dumbed-down “California Rolls” for those who weren’t adventurous enough to try raw fish. Rather than tell these idiots that they had no business sitting at a sushi bar if they didn’t want to try raw fish, they placated them with avocado, cucumber and imitation crab—the antithesis of the pristine seafood sushi chefs were spending so much of their energy and money obtaining. They looked the other way when Americans wiped away (or added) wasabi, dunked sushi into the soy sauce rice-side down, and asked for “more sauce.” They even started packing the rice tighter than what was traditionally taught, specifically because they KNEW that Americans would dunk rice-side down instead of fish-side down, inevitably causing the rice to fall apart in the dish. All this has created a country of sushi eaters that don’t truly eat sushi as it was intended. It created a nation of people who think mayo actually has a place at a sushi counter.

So when a few top sushi chefs decided to serve strictly in a style known as “omakase” (loosely translated as “trust the chef”), it’s no surprise that Americans got their panties in an uproar when they were denied their miso soup and kicked out for requesting fried soft shell crab rolls or spicy tuna rolls. In an effort to return sushi to the craft it once was, these guys are now being called sushi bullies because they have no time for our Americanized bullshit. Most of us are completely unfamiliar with the centuries-old Japanese culinary traditions, and that can be agonizing for some chefs. I was fortunate enough, for example, to have been taught that sushi is finger food, and doesn’t require chopsticks. So when I get funny looks from Americans who think I’m being rude, I often wonder if they realize how rude THEY are being by drowning the delicate fish in wasabi-spiked soy sauce—the equivalent of pouring ketchup over coq au vin.

These sushi chefs are asking that we put our trust in them. They’re insisting that they know how a certain piece of fish will best be appreciated, and that we shouldn’t question or adulterate what’s set before us if we want to experience sushi for what it truly is. If you don’t like putting yourself completely in the hands of a well-trained chef, feel free to go to Sushi Samba and order any one of their many bastardizations. I’m pretty sure they’ll also bring you a bottle of Heinz Ketchup if you ask nicely. But if you can handle total culinary surrender, perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two about the cuisine you claim to love so deeply and devoutly. And perhaps, then, you can leave your treasured Philadelphia Roll behind you and never, ever, EVER look back.

Some Omakase-Style Restaurants:
Los Angeles – Urasawa, Matsuhisa, Sushi Nozawa
New York – Sushi Yasuda, Masa
Boston – Oishii
San Francisco – Ino
Canada – Tojo’s

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey January 14, 2009

I saw a tv show once that said it took years for a true sushi master chef to be trained – proper sushi has to be done by a ‘master’ because you are dealing with raw fish

anyone who thinks that mayo and ketchup deserves to be near any far eastern cuisine should be hung drawn and quartered – even im not that much of a philistine

on a personal level i have tried it – not a fan im afraid – but i think it looks amazing if that helps lol!


2 Katie Pizzuto January 14, 2009

Hmm, hung, drawn and quartered, Linsey? You must have read my previous post about motherhood, huh? 😛


3 Linsey January 14, 2009

lol – that and a nice little reference to my favourite way of execution for treason in the uk – after all putting mayo with sushi is virtually treason


4 Dale Cruse January 15, 2009

I agree that Oishii in Boston is terrific. It’s my favorite in the area!


5 Katie Pizzuto January 15, 2009

Thanks Dale! Do you have a favorite type of sushi that you’ve had there?!?


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