(photo by Amanda Woodward)
“Here is your uniform,” Jun handed me a white Japanese style sushi chef uniform. It was thin, almost see-through, but not quite, but then, close enough, a kind, which gave me rather a cheap feel.
“Oh, thank you,” I replied. Well, it was not Jun’s fault that the uniform was thin.
“We change upstairs,” Jun said. There were no employee lockers, change or so-called break room with tables. I was to pub my belongings into a closet by the bathroom entrance, underneath the stairs, where they stored some cleaning supplies and vacuum cleaners. Great. That was fancy; I thought to myself.
I took the stairs to the second floor. The upstairs were all couch seats, which surrounded the red walls. The carpet was dark with a smell of soy sauce and something else that I could not figure out what. It looked old. The room could hold good thirty or so people. It did not look like sushi restaurant at all. It looked more like a lounge at fraternity house with a bunch of beanbags lying on the floor, except; they were not beanbags, but black sofas.
I changed to my new thin uniform and walked downstairs.
“The first thing we do is to make rice, but before we do that, we need to turn the switch on,” Jun explained.
“What switch?” I asked.
“It’s for the fish refrigerator on the sushi bar. It gets pretty hot inside of the restaurant, and it takes a while to get cold, so we need to do now before we start putting fish in it.”
Jun reached for the switch under the sushi bar and turned it on.
We walked to the back kitchen, and Jun picked up a large stainless bowl, about 20 inches in diameter. He removed a lid from a large gray plastic trash bucket. Using a measuring cup, he scooped out some rice and poured it into the bowl. He did that for three times, totaling 30 cups of uncooked rice.
Then, Jun took the bowl to the sink and started to rinse the rice in water. After draining the water for a couple of times, he begun to press the rice firmly with his right hand, as he rotated the whole bowl, then rinsed again. He repeated this for a couple more times until the water became less milky. He drained the water and transferred the rice into a huge rice cooker. The whole washing and rinsing procedure was something I was already familiar with. Similar to the way I have been doing, seeing my mom and other Japanese chefs on TV, in person and cookbooks.
“This is gas rice cooker and can make something like, 50 cups. We need to let the rice sit in water for fifteen minutes or so before hitting start switch.”
“That way, rice tastes better.”
Glucose or the sugar in the rice is located in the core of the grain. So, by soaking the rice in water for fifteen to thirty minutes, it helps to bring out more “Umami” or sweetness from the rice.
Before putting the lid on the rice cooker, Jun placed his left hand on the rice and checking the water level with his wrist. I’ve seen some Japanese chefs do this to level the water, and I never understood the method, so I even did not bother to ask him how and what he was looking for.