Everything was set up for me to succeed. I had the hat, the apron, the mat, the rice, the seaweed and most importantly, the fish…but I know now that I will never have what it takes to be called itamae. Gaining the title of Master Sushi Chef requires a certain innate nature – calm, quiet intensity – that I just don’t have. Learning to make sushi, on the other hand, requires a whole different set of skills I do have – enthusiasm, eagerness, mess-making and, most importantly, humor.
Last Saturday afternoon, I was invited to UNI restaurant to try my hand at rolling rolls and shaping sushi. Hat on, apron tied securely around the waist, hands moistened, I was ready for the task at hand. It looked so easy. All I had to do was form rice into a ball and place it evenly in the centre of the seaweed. I got stuck at the first hurdle or, should I say, the rice got stuck and was getting stickier the longer it was sticking to my hands. It was not as easy as it looked.
Thank goodness, Chef Christian was on hand to guide us through the pitfalls ahead. As patient as a spider, he regaled us with amusing sushi stories while pointing out how we could do better, eventually getting the rice unstuck and onto the seaweed.
He informed us that sushi rice must be washed seven times thoroughly before even thinking about using it. Why? You might ask. The answer, my dears, is to make the rice whiter. It has to look good under the fish before you put the whole thing into your mouth and eat it in one bite. Of course. Sushi Making is an art and it take years of experience to become an itamae, five years of training before you even get to make the rice! Anyone can put a piece of raw tuna onto a ball of rice, but calling it sushi is a whole different kettle of fish.
So keep stroking that salmon and follow a few of the tips I was taught that fateful Saturday:
The afternoon was great fun and I actually made maki that looked almost as good as they tasted! Take the class and then stay and wash some professionally arranged sushi down with one of their chili mojitos. While feasting, follow or ignore Anthony Bourdain’s advice: Don’t dunk your nigiri in the soy sauce. Don’t mix your wasabi in the soy sauce. If the rice is good, complement your sushi chef on the rice.
Best Bits: Travel Cheat Sheet
- UNI: 18a Ebury Street, SW1, T. 020 7730 9267
NB: I was the guest of UNI restaurant and thank them for a great afternoon.