Preserving the art of sushi: Australian chefs welcome new scheme
Yoshii Ryuichi trained for several years as an apprentice sushi chef in Japan before he was allowed anywhere near the chopping board.
Mostly washing dishes, he says his most used words were, “yes” and “sorry”.
Mr Ryuichi has since opened his own Sydney restaurant and has even made sushi for the Japanese Emperor.
He says there is a big difference between sushi made in the traditional way, and the kind that may be more familiar to people outside of Japan.
“Takeaway sushi is only food. When customers try our sushi they say – it has life.”
He’s one of several sushi chefs in Australia welcoming news of an accreditation program, and guidelines on food preparation to restaurants outside of Japan.
The program would see chefs travel to Japan to learn the basics of Japanese cuisine including food hygiene and safety.
Unlike regulations placed on the use of ‘champagne’ and Greek regulations on ‘Feta’, this program is voluntary, and won’t stop people from using the ‘sushi’ label.
Traditionally, sushi apprentices in Japan spend several years observing the Itamae (sushi chef), before being promoted to the role of Wakiita, which means ‘near the cutting board’.
“Some chefs, they don’t know anything about the basic techniques. They are born suddenly, like a rock star.” – Hideo Dekura
Hideo Dekura runs a Japanese cooking school in Sydney, and has written 20 books on the subject of Japanese cuisine. He says there has been a surge of interest in it amongst chefs with little to no basic knowledge of the traditions.
“Some chefs, they don’t know anything about the basic techniques. They are born suddenly, like a rock star,” he said.
“All the ingredients are combined together then – ‘hey, this is fusion!’ But for me, the fusion cuisine still (needs) foundation… basic techniques, then cross over.”
Traditional Japanese cuisine or Washoku has previously been recognised for the specialised skills and knowledge it requires. In 2013, Japanese cuisine was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
“I think understanding the seriousness – how seriously it’s taken, applies to a lot of things in Japan,” says writer Jane Lawson, who runs food tours of Japan.
“That standard of excellence and wanting it to be absolutely perfect and the best experience of your customer. That says a lot about your culture. It’s all about doing your best.”
Mr Dekura fears the art of sushi may be lost as people favour short-courses over spending years training.
“In less than two years you can become official, professional licenced. But that’s very instant. For me two years we did nothing… just helping out, washing dishes and all that,” he said
“I don’t agree but I understand the situation. Because now life is very… speed up… Internet. Information is so fast.”