Steal with your eyes

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The restaurant was not busy. Customers walked in occasionally and we got orders.

When I was told to watch and do nothing else, I first got slightly angry because honestly, I was surprised. I was surprised to find out that they did not want me to work. I felt useless. I felt worthless, but then, when I think about it now, what else could I do anyway? I had no knowledge of making a California roll; I never made one. I had no knowledge of how to slice a fish; I never sliced fish for sushi either. I never made nigiri before. After all, I was unable to tell the difference between Hamachi and Tai.

I felt disappointed. I wanted to work, and I wanted to work as a sushi chef, and only on my first day, I was already feeling like, “Gee, how long would I have to train to be a sushi chef?” I just was unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, because, the tunnel, seemed so long.

The sushi bar was quite small – just enough for three people to stand side by side, with some room in the back for just one more person to stand. I guess it was about 8ft. x 6ft. or so.

For the first one hour, the restaurant was slow. It was Wednesday night, so there was not much to do, not much to watch. I felt bit bored, and I had nothing to ask yet. Toshi looked as if he had something on his mind and I felt he was not easily accessible, not to say he was not friendly, there was something preventing him from talking to a stranger or someone whom he just met. Maybe it took him some time to get comfortable with people.

I thought it was, perhaps, better than working at a sushi restaurant in Japan. If I became an apprentice, I would imagine that they would only let me do small chores like cleaning and washing dishes, even though, I was in my thirties. Here, at least, I got to do some prep work on my first day and get to watch and observe. It was just like they say in Japan: Steal with your eyes. That’s the fastest and the best way to learn and master anything. Even Picasso said the same thing: Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

So, I decide to watch and pay attention to everything I could. There was nothing else to do after all. I realized, one way to see the light at the end of the tunnel faster was to watch and steal all the techniques from Toshi and Jun. I watched how they hold the sashimi knife. I watched how they wet their hands before they touched sushi rice. I watched how they slice the tuna against the grain for nigiri. I watched how thick they sliced salmon for sashimi. I watched which plate they used for rolls and nigiri. I watched how and where they placed the knives on the cutting board. I watched how they greeted the customers “Irasshaymase.” I figured that I could say, so I said “Irasshaymase” with them. I watched how they took orders from the customers at the sushi bar. I watched how they interacted with them also. It looked simple, but because I had never done it, I was unsure if I could do it or not. I watched how much rice they used for a roll and nigiri. I watched how Toshi made nigiri and couldn’t figure out how. His hands moved too fast. It was like magic. Once he grabbed a slice of fish, on one hand, he quickly grabbed some sushi rice on the other hand, and within a few seconds, he moved both of his hands quickly and formed a bit sized nigiri: rice on a bottom with fish, slightly arched and on top. I watched how much wasabi and gari they put on the plate. I watched how they picked up fish and put it back into the fridge. I watched everything, for now.

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