Last hands-on experience with chefs from Bay Chapter of USPCA. Photo by Chef Claude Garbo

Zen and the Art of Sushi Rolling

I was a 20-something girl, recently graduating in Journalism, and about two very fashionable sushi restaurants just opened in my hometown. Most of my friends were so proud of being brave enough to risk on eating raw fish. So I sat down on the counter, where the sushi chef was carefully making rolls and clapping wet hands. I was fascinated by the carefully cut colorful ingredients, and the tranquility of the old master. Yet, I was doubting I would be eating those beautiful creations. So I asked for some advice.

The trick, as one of my closest friends told me, was to have a glass of sake close by, to choose an easy texture fish like albacore or ahi tuna. Then, just relax, tune in your taste buds to the delicacy of flavors. And finally swallow it. If the experience was too intense, a sip of a generous amount of sake would fix everything. So I did it. And fell in love with sushi rolls, makis, nigiris and futomakis forever.

Although a huge admirer of other Japanese crafts, like Ikebana, it took me a long time to try to actually make a sushi roll. Other colleagues from the newsroom would invite me over to watch them making nigiris, but I always thought the rice was not right, that the fish was maybe not so fresh et etc. etc.… And then two decades later I became a personal chef and a mom of two boys. And guess what?  Learning the art of sushi from a Japanese neighbor in San Jose, California. The effort was part of my cooking class project at school, when we were talking about communities and an ingredient that would be globally used for national staples. Something like rice.

Kimi, the kind Japanese lady who used to live across my house, came to my kitchen and told me something familiar. She told me to relax, enjoy and let tit flow. In my mind sushi would be difficult, but she reassured me that it would be easy once I just visualized the framework (the nori sheet), and spread the right amount of Cali Rose cooked rice in it, spreading the beautiful ingredients I chose to use. She told me about tamago, and said that would be the everyday sushi. I slowly learned every part of it, and at the end of the day I couldn’t stop rolling all types, so to be able to pass on my learnings to the kids on next week cooking classes. For food safety reasons we just made sushi with vegetables, and sometimes a very shy layer of cream cheese, to make some kids more comfortable.

As a professional chef, I also did some deep research about food safety and how to make sure that I knew everything about sushi-grade fish. That took me to this website, which has a very comprehensive explanation about all the process needed to make sushi in a restaurant. It confirmed something that my fishmonger friends already had told me. Sushi grade fish means fish that was better flash-frozen in the boat.

I also went to find some interesting tips about sushi rolling, The Kitchn, one of my favorite cooking lifestyle sites, shared this knowledge. There are endless resources available, like this site SushiFaq. The history of sushi is beautifully told hereBut the most important factor on my learning process has been that lovely afternoon spent with Kimi. The endless hours observing the Japanese sushi chefs working in their elegant demeanor also helped. 

Above all, I enjoy the meditative art of eating sushi and the focus needed while I am preparing a roll for my family or friends. Like a canvas, I love to paint it with white rice, all my favorite colors with bright fresh vegetables, and a blissful state of mind.