It was March 2008, and I was staying in my friend’s closet in Tenderloin/Bob Hill in downtown San Francisco for a couple of weeks, because I had no money, no savings and nowhere else to go. I was doing youth hostel hopping – downtown San Francisco and Berkeley and working at Izakaya restaurant. I could only stay for a couple of weeks to a month at one youth hostel because they did not want people to live there for a long time. I knew I had to find work, so I signed up with a chef temp agency and got some work. Most of the work I got from the temp agency was prep cook and chef work at corporate cafeterias.
The first temp job I ever got was for the cafe at de Young Museum. The kitchen manager asked me if I knew how to make a whip cream, and I said NO. He then asked me to cut bread and I told him I own no bread knife. Have you ever cooked Roast Beef, the chef asked? No, not really. Frustrated, he asked me: What can you do? I said, “I can make sushi and cut fish.” “Well, sushi is not on the menu. I need to find something for you to do.” So, he asked me to start chopping some onions. There were at least thirty to forty people squeezed into the small kitchen space, walking back and forth, occasionally bumping into each other. It looked very busy and hectic. Half of the staff was working for the museum cafe, and rests were working for the big party in the evening. On the wall by the office of the executive chef, there were some order sheets saying “Catering” with itemized menu with all the dishes, ingredients and how many serving they need to make. It was a big three-page list.
My time at Youth Hostel in Mission was approaching the maximum stay limit, so I needed to find another place to stay. I was riding a bus and suddenly, a friend I had not seen in a few years got on. I said, “Janice?” “Kaz?” I explained to her my situation and she offered me to stay in her apartment in Nob Hill/Tenderloin for a couple of weeks. I first slept on the couch in the living room, but it was so small, and she had to wake up early to go to work, I decided to sleep in her small closet, which had a door and private.
After de Young Museum, I got a phone call to go work at UCSF cafeteria. “Yes, it’s tomorrow morning, 6:30AM. Are you available?” “Yes, I can work tomorrow,” I replied immediately. Of course I was available. I need to every penny I could earn. UCSF was not so far away from Nobhill and since I owned no car and no bicycle, I had to use public transportation to get there, which meant, I had to wake up at 5:30 AM, walk to Subway station, take a train and walk to the cafeteria kitchen. I reported to the kitchen manager/executive chef and he told him I was from the temp agency. He said that my job was to make 100 sandwiches for the conference in the auditorium. The cafe had a catering division and took care of breakfast, lunches, afternoon snacks and dinners for all the conferences on campus.
Janice’s apartment was nice, but there was something creepy about her apartment building. So I had to find yet another place to stay. I didn’t realize it later, but I guess I was doing so-called Couch Hopping. I was thinking of whom to contact. I was desperate, so it didn’t have to be a close friend. I only have to know him or her phone number to call. Then, I remembered about Tom, whom I met during an event. Tom was living in a shared house in Oakland, near Ashby Bart Station. I emailed him and got a response day later, and he said it was OK. I told Janice Thanks and told her that I was moving to another friend’s place the day after.
When I was at Tom’s, I got work, again through my temp agent, to work at one of the cafeterias in Genentech Campus. My shift started at 6 AM, so I needed to get up at 4 AM, to catch the first BART at Ashby at 4:30 AM, arrive at Colma Station around 5:25 AM, then ride Tom’s bicycle for 30 minutes to the kitchen at Genentech in South San Francisco. Tom was kind enough to lend me his bike. I had no money to groceries, let alone bicycle. In fact, I was eating some of his food in the cupboard like dried nuts and granolas, when I got hungry. I barely had money to ride BART. So, I was glad I had a job that paid me on every Friday. I could wait for the check to be mailed, which took extra three to four days, or go to pick up the check at Temp agency’s office in downtown San Francisco. I went there every Friday after work. Anyway, the bicycle had no gears, and it was tough to ride the uphill, especially at 5:30 in the morning when it was still dark outside. As I rode the bike, I told myself I would never do this again and get out of this as soon as I could. I was 41 years old. The job at Genentech lasted two weeks. It was making sandwiches and serving lunch at Cafeteria. One time, I slept on the BART and passed Colma Station and found myself at SFO, which was the end of the line. I panicked a bit and realized the train would go back to Colma Station eventually, so I just waited for it to start moving. It felt like I traveled far away to an unknown place that I’ve never been. Luckily, I arrived only five minutes late to work because I rode the bike really really fast.
Since I was determined to stop waking up 4AM to ride train and bike to start my work at 6:30AM, I was looking for a different type of work. That was when I found an ad for a catering company who was looking for chefs. They were located in Emeryville, so I thought, it would be closer to work there than in the city. I sent my resume, and they responded saying that I had a unique experience. We did a simple phone interview and they told me that they would like me to come in for their employee orientation. I was excited No more waking up at 4 AM. Because it was part-time catering chef, I have very little work in the beginning, but it was enough to save some money. Just a couple months before, I had no idea how I could come up with money to pay $700 monthly rent and security deposit for the apartment; somehow, I managed to come up with both. I found and moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland/Emeryville border, on 36th street, near Market Street.
Because catering job was not steady, I got another job at Sushi restaurant in San Francisco. Working at multiple jobs stabilized my income and I was able to focus more on what I wanted to do to increase my income. Instead of working at another restaurant, I figured that I could teach a sushi class and that would make me more money. Also, I could make my own schedule, so I decided to give a try.
My first sushi class I ever taught took place in a kitchen at a catering company in Emeryville.
I put a small ad on Craigslist because that was the only place I could think of to promote my class. No one registered to the class for a few weeks and one day, I got a call from a woman who was a manager at a catering company and she asked me about what I would teach in the class. I told her that I would teach basics of sushi, cooking rice, sushi vinegar, inside out roll, seaweed out roll, hand roll, using some fish like crab and tuna. She said there were two chefs in her company and she wanted them to learn to make sushi, so she wanted to make sure I could teach the class. After hanging up the phone, she booked two spots for the class. In the end, I got three attendees at $100/each. I asked the owner of the catering company I was working if I could use their kitchen to teach a sushi class. I told him that it was my first class and I got three people. I was so relieved when the owner said yes because I could not think of anywhere else to do the class. All the equipment was there in the kitchen; all I had to bring in was ingredients. I bought vegetables at Local Supermarket and fish at Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley. I put all the ingredients in my suitcase and took a bus and headed to the catering kitchen. My friend helped me to set up for the class. It was fun to think of the class outline, what to teach and how to teach it. I enjoy thinking of a creative way to teach sushi making. I believe a good class should be informative, educational, entertaining, simple, good balance between talk and hands-on, interactive and most importantly, fun. I’ve watched a lot of online videos on sushi making and cooking class. Certainly, watching cooking shows on TV when I was growing up, helped my style of teaching. I never wanted to my class to be boring, like a history class in high school, packed with facts after facts. I want to say that my first class was a huge success, but it was OK. I devoted myself to showing all the techniques and tried to interact with all the attendees.
I must say that I was not so nervous since I’ve taught many (non-sushi) cooking classes in the past. As a matter of fact, I was excited because I made all the arrangements and everything I planned became a reality. Most importantly, there were people who wanted to take my class, and they came. The fact that there were only three attendees did not seem to matter so much. I cannot say that my first class was spectacular – I’d say it was just ordinary. I showed how to wash rice, how to cook it, how to mix with sushi vinegar, how to make a California Roll, cut vegetable, and fish. I probably did not explain well enough. During the class, I had to think of the structure of class constantly, so, it was not probably smooth. I probably did not speak loud enough or mumbled a lot. Nonetheless, it was my first sushi class, and I was happy to host it. I knew that there would be more people who would be interested in sushi class. It was just a matter of reaching and finding them.