Jun opened the door for the walk-In refrigerator and grabbed 10 European cucumbers. They are long and thinner than American cucumbers, individually wrapped by plastic.
“OK, now we go back to the sushi bar and do some prep.”
We walked to the front part of the restaurant, into the sushi bar. The front, dining side of the restaurant was much warmer than the kitchen side.
“The sushi refrigerator was going on for about a fifteen minutes or so, now, we could start laying the fish. First place these white plates like this. You can put seven on each side like this,” Jun explained to me, as he moved his hands. The white plates had holes on the bottom to drain the water from fish.
“The older fish goes on the left side of the sushi case, and there is always an order. First, Octopus and Squid. Then, Saba, White Fish Tai or Hirame, Hamachi, Salmon, Tuna, and Shrimp. They need to be in this order all the time. Otherwise, everyone gets confused. The older fish is called Aniki, the older brother. The fresher fish is called Otòto, younger brother.”
“I see.” I did not fully understand the reason why they need be in that order every time. It took me a while to learn and realize the importance of Japanese way of Mis en place. I learned through doing it and I can say this now, after working in a professional kitchen for so many years that, it is a way to reinforce your mind so that you will remember where all your tools and ingredients are without consciously wonder about it. It’s a good thing, especially in a crunch.
After laying the fish, Jun picked up four plexiglass sliding doors, placed then and closed them to seal the cold air.
“We use snow crab pack,” Jun said after looking at a small refrigerator inside of a sushi bar.
“This is where we keep everything that doesn’t fit in the sushi refrigerator. We have ume boshi plum paste; we have tsukemono daikon pickles, we have mir•ugai/giant clam, we have crab, some extra tuna and spicy tuna mix, we keep ama•ebi sweet shrimp and so on.”
We had to keep miru•gai wet towel in a stainless container with a lid to keep it “alive.” I learned how to prep miru•gai later.
I looked inside and was half full with lots of things. It made me feel like looking at someone’s home refrigerator and felt I should not touch anything.
Jun walked to the back kitchen and brought a package of solid frozen snow crab, a size of a cookbook from the freezer. There was a walk-in refrigerator and walk-in the freezer next to each other. He placed it in a sink and let the water run slowly to thaw.
“This snow crab is called sandwich because lump meat is on the top and the bottom sandwiching the flakes in between. After thawing, we will mix this with mayo, but not leg meat. We’ll use Lump meat for nigiri or sashimi. On weeknights, we typically go through half of the pack a night, so we can mix half for tonight and leave unmixed crab in the side fridge. It takes a good hour or two because the whole thing melts, so we need to make sure to check the crab early during the prep because it’s our responsibility to make sure we have enough crab mix ready before the restaurant opens.”
That was when I realized and learned that each chef had his own tasks and must perform everything before the restaurant opens. If he forgets to do one thing, then, it could cause a problem for everyone. So, it’s an individual effort and team effort at the same time. Everyone must focus on his work and keep an eye on each other at the same time in the kitchen. I suppose it is similar to playing a baseball. I remember what my Jr. league coach used to tell us: one error equals one run to the other team. One simple mistake during prep, can lead to a delay or unhappy customer at a restaurant. So, every step in prep is important.
After thawing, Jun showed me how to mix the crab. It was very simple, except I had to remember how much mayo to put in and most importantly, how it tasted because everything was done eyeballing.