My First California Roll

photo by Albert Law : www.porkbellystudio.com
photo by Albert Law : http://www.porkbellystudio.com

We were standing at the sushi bar. Toshi stepped forward and stood in front of the long cutting board.

“First, wet your hands in this bowl of water. That’s very important because otherwise, your hands will be full of rice. If and when that happens, just wash your hands in the sink and start over.”

There was a sink, right in the middle of the sushi bar. Water was running continuously so all the chefs could wash their hands quickly.

“Then grab some rice – about this size.” Toshi showed me a rice ball that was the size of a tennis ball. I imagined it was more rice to fit in a rice bowl. It looked big, or more rice than I thought it would go into one a Roll. He placed it on the top left the corner. “Now, start spreading, oh I almost forgot, remember to place rice on the back side of Nori.”

Though most Japanese should know this, Nori has shiny smooth side and rough, not the shiny side. Shiny side is the outside, and rough/not-shiny is the inside. No matter what roll you are making – inside out, seaweed out, hand roll – rice always goes on the rough/inside.

“Spread the rice using the only left hand, like this.”

Toshi begun to press and spread the rice from left to right of Nori. The rice moved, as if it was like play-doh or some soft bread dough.

“At the same time, make “U” shape with your right hand to guide the rice so that you cover only the top half of the nori.”

His hands moved very quickly. I already felt like I forgot many of the steps. It looked as if the rice was coming from his right hand.

“Your right hand is more important. I mean, both of your hands are important. In the beginning, many people think it’s the left hand that is doing all the work and forget to move the right hand, so you must remember to use both hands the same time. It’s a little bit like playing piano.

Only the top half of the Nori was covered with sushi rice.

“From here, spread the rice on the top and cover the bottom half, starting from the right end, center and the left. Also, keep in mind to make the rice nice and fluffy. When you press the rice too hard, you lose the texture, and the rice gets mushy. That’s no good. The texture of the rice is one of the most important things in Sushi. When you are finished spreading the rice, sprinkle some sesame seeds and turn it over so that rice is down, Nori is up.”

I remembered that part because I have seen it enough times. Toshi continued.

“Place some crab mix right in the center. As a matter of fact, put it hair below the center. It’s easier to roll that way. Then some cucumber strips and avocado slices.”

Toshi put then all the ingredients neatly, all the way across the nori, horizontally.

“Now we are ready to roll it up.”

Toshi grabbed the bottom end of nori with both hands and started to curl up and tuck in the top end before sealing the roll first; then another ninety degrees turn, so the seam is facing Toshi, not to the customer side.

“Pick up the makisu/bamboo mat and place it over the roll.”

All the makisu had the plastic wrap to prevent rice from sticking to it. You may wonder what did they do before the plastic wrap in Japan? Well, they did not have to because traditional Japanese rolls are all Nori out, so rice would never touch the mat. Since California roll is an American invention and rice outside, we must cover makisu with plastic. Otherwise, it will be covered with rice.

“Just squeeze the roll gently over makisu a couple of times, as you slide your hands left and right.”

When Toshi removed the makisu, there was a beautiful long roll, sitting on the cutting board.

“Cutting is difficult. You can move the knife back and forth like a saw and cut through. An experienced chef can do this with a single stroke like this.”

He quickly moved the knife forward once, pull back, and the roll was cut into two.

“The wrong way is to force your knife down, which will smash the roll, like this. Make sure your knife is wet before you cut, so wipe with your towel, blade facing out, not toward your palm. Never place the knife into the bowl of water because that is dangerous. When you have your bowl of water, that is OK to do that, but because we are sharing the bowl, never dip your knife in the bowl because when we get busy, you may accidentally cut other’s hand. Now, you try it.”

I was nervous but excited at the same time. I picked up a sheet of nori and put it down on the cutting board. I wet my hands in the bowl of water, took off the rid from the rice warmer, grabbed some rice, unsure if I had the right amount in my hand or not. I rolled up the Sushi Rice in my hand to form a tennis ball and my hands were already sticky, rice sticking to the palm of my hand. I quickly put down the ball of rice on nori, washed my hands in the running water.

Many people think Sushi Rice is “Sticky” Rice. However, it is (mostly) short grain rice. Japanese rice is short grain, and that is what Sushi Chefs use in Japan. The reason it is “sticker” is that Sushi Rice has Sushi Vinegar, which has Rice Vinegar, Salt and Sugar. Sugar is what bind each grain of rice together, like glue and also, makes it extremely challenging to handle with your hands. Wetting your hands is a must, but when your hands are too wet, rice will start to break apart. When handling, you need to find the happy medium – not too dry, not too wet hands.

I started to spread the rice with my left hand and it just did not spread at all. I kind of mushed the rice. Rice was uneven on the sheet of nori. It was spotty. By this time, my hands were ricey again. Not good, not good, I said to myself silently. I must have tried it several times, each time getting a better handle of sushi rice, until I was able to place some crab, cucumber, and avocado to roll it up. I picked up makusi and applied some pressure to form a roll, then cut into six pieces, just like Toshi told me.

My California Roll looked nothing like the one Toshi made. His California Roll was round, fluffy, cut evenly, the same height and had the same amount of fillings in each piece. Mine? Uneven rice, fillings, height, a sad looking California Roll.

How to make Inside Out Roll

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We are standing at the sushi bar. Toshi stepped forward and stood in front of the long cutting board.

First, wet your hands in this bowl of water. That’s very important because otherwise, your hands will be full of rice. If and when that happens, just wash your hands in the sink and start over.”

In the middle of the sushi bar was a sink with water continuously running so all the chefs could wash their hands quickly.

“Then grab some rice – about this size.” Toshi showed me a rice ball that was the size of a tennis ball. It looked big; more rice than I thought it would go into one California Roll. He placed it on the top left the corner. “Now, start spreading the rice using only left hand like this.”

Toshi started to press and spread the rice from left to the right. The rice moved as if it was like play-doh or some soft bread dough or something.

“At the same time, make “U” shape with your right hand to guide the rice so that you cover only the top half of the nori.”

His hands moved very quickly. I already felt like I couldn’t remember all the steps. It looked as if the rice was coming from his right hand.

“Your right hand is more important. I mean, both of your hands are important. In the beginning, many people think it’s the left hand that is doing all the work and forget to move the right hand, so you must remember to use both hands the same time. It’s a little bit like playing piano.

Only the top half of the nori was covered with sushi rice.

“From here, spread the rice on the top and cover the bottom half, starting from the right end, center and the left. Also, keep in mind to make the rice nice and fluffy. When you press the rice too hard, you lose the texture, and the rice gets mushy. That’s no good. The texture of the rice is one of the most important things in Sushi. When you are finished spreading the rice, sprinkle some sesame seeds and turn it over so that rice is down, Nori is up.”

I remembered that part because I have seen it enough times. Toshi continued.

“Place some crab mix right in the center. As a matter of fact, put it hair below the center. It’s easier to roll that way. Then some cucumber strips and avocado slices.”

Toshi put then all the ingredients neatly, all the way across the nori, horizontally.

“Now we are ready to roll it up.”

Toshi grabbed the bottom end of nori with both hands and started to curl up and tuck in the top end before sealing the roll first; then another ninety degrees turn, so the seam is facing Toshi, not to the customer side.

“Pick up the makisu/bamboo mat and place it over the roll.”

All the makisu had the plastic wrap to prevent rice from sticking to it. You may wonder what did they do before the plastic wrap in Japan? Well, they did not have to because traditional Japanese rolls are all Nori out, so rice would never touch the mat. Since California roll is an American invention and rice outside, we must cover makisu with plastic. Otherwise, it will be covered with rice.

“Just squeeze the roll gently over makisu a couple of times, as you slide your hands left and right.”

When Toshi removed the makisu, there was a beautiful long roll, sitting on the cutting board.

“Cutting is difficult. You can move the knife back and forth like a saw and cut through. An experienced chef can do this with a single stroke like this.”

He quickly moved the knife forward once, pull back, and the roll was cut into two.

“The wrong way is to force your knife down, which will smash the roll, like this. Make sure your knife is wet before you cut, so wipe with your towel, blade facing out, not toward your palm. Never place the knife into the bowl of water because that is dangerous. When you have your bowl of water, that is OK to do that, but because we are sharing the bowl, never dip your knife in the bowl because when we get busy, you may accidentally cut other’s hand.”

Celebrities – Steve Tyrell

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Not all stars and celebrities enjoyed the attention. Heath Leader and Leonard DiCaprio were those, who did everything to avoid the attention. Both of them came late night, mostly during weeknights, dressed in regular clothing, with a baseball hat and sat quietly at the corner table, away from the other restaurant patrons. They never made a fuss, loud noise, or drunk too much sake or beer. They just walked in, sat down, ordered and ate the sushi, just like all the other customers. (OK, not all of them: some of the customers came to just party.) I’ve seen many celebrities like that: Helen Hunt, Paula Cole, Anthony Hopkins to name a few. When they arrived, we sensed that they wanted us to treat them just like other people. I suspected it was because they get enough attention from other people and maybe, they just wanted to things to be “normal” so that they could enjoy their sushi. In return, we treated the no different from other guests. I never treated them differently, gave them better fish, nor expected them to give us more tips than necessary.

When I saw Denzel Washington in the back parking lot after parking his black Porsche, he told me, in the same enthusiastic manner we all see in his movies, that something about the sharp hill and blind spot making it difficult to park, so I said thank you for pointing that out.

Former Red Hot Chill Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro loved our special: Seared Tuna Sashimi with Avocado and Salsa.  He came and visit us twice, sometimes three times in a week, ordering this special Sashimi every time. Most of the time, he placed “to go” order and when we got those orders in, we knew it was him and greeted him saying, “Dave-san,” when he arrived to pick up his order. Dave-san was quite but friendly and we aways enjoyed his company.

The other person who loved the same special was Steve Tyrell. He started to come for lunch, right after Saito-san decided to open for lunch. During the lunch hours of 12PM-4PM, hardly anyone came to Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi. It was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Sushi join and no one would come for lunch, Toshi said. Saito-san decided to open anyway. As Toshi said, we hardly got any customers, though, Steve came in for lunch more than any other customers. On a good day, there were ten customers and most of the time, four to six. When we started to seeing him, I had no idea who he was. Upon seeing the Seared Tuna Sashimi with Avocado and Salsa, he ordered one and immediately said that was the best Sashimi he ever had. He came back the following day and ordered the same thing, looking a bit shy. He still said that the Sashimi was excellent and started to come almost every day for lunch. Sometimes he ordered two Sashimis.  Sometimes he came for lunch, and came back a few hours later for dinner. We found out that he was a Jazz vocalist and his Jazz album at that time was No.1 on Billboard’s Jazz chart.

When we congratulate him on his album being No.1, he said thank you and later brought a signed copy of CD to all the Sushi chefs as a gift.

Axel Rose came in one night, and he was sitting with a couple of people, talking quietly. It looked like some kind of business meeting. Toshi asked him for a photograph and he told Axel how much he enjoyed his music. Axel was kind enough to offer him a ticket to the concert that was coming up. He said he will have someone send Toshi some tickets later. Toshi got so excited, however, he never received them in the mail.

Sake Bombs

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Sake Bomb by Hungry Dudes

I had never heard of sake bomb until I started working at Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi. Who would think of putting hot sake (in a sake glass) into a cold beer and drink together? Just like the California Roll, Sake Bomb, is American Invention, or maybe it came from Japan? At least, I’ve never had one in Japan until I became a sushi chef in LA.

If you’ve never seen or done Sake Bomb before, just look for a video on Youtube: there are plenty of it. To do Sake Bomb, first pour cold beer in a tall glass, place chopsticks over the rim of the beer glass, and put sake glass filled with warm sake on the chopsticks. Then you and everyone shout, “Sake Bomb Sake Bomb Sake Bomb” and hit the table hard enough so that the sake glass drops into the glass of beer. Once you observe the dropping of the sake glass, you quickly pick up the beer glass, and drink as fast as you can. That’s it.

The inventor of the Sake Bomb seems to remain unknown. Some sources (LA Magazine) sights that soldier in Japan during WWII came up with Sake Bomb, while “it occurred late one evening in Manhattan when some Japanese businessmen watched several locals drinking “boiler makers” and tried it with sake,” according to True Sake.

Either case, Sake Bomb is not something many Japanese or I would enjoy, especially if you love sake. Sake lovers would drink sake slowly, enjoy the deep aroma and flavor of rice and water, so they would never think of a way to spoil it all by dumping and mixing it with beer. Would you mix a great glass of French Wine with beer? If you love wine or beer, I’d imagine you would never think of doing that and chug it down your throat.

Generally speaking, sake served hot is of those inferior qualities. Some medium grade sake is served hot during winter in Japan. When heated, some alcohol evaporates and makes the sake milder, so heating up cheap sake makes it tastes a bit better.

Weekend nights were what I referred as “amateur nights,” where many Valley boys (viewed as people who cannot live in “happening” metro LA area, thus, not “hip), Orange County chicks (easy going, beach bunnies weekend party goers), and Inland Empire Latino Amigos (living in far out from LA and where the “happening things happen, but they want to be associated with “happening” Hollywood people, so they come to mingle with happening people, but the truth is, the real “happening” people party elsewhere) show up, eat sushi and drink large bottles of Sapporo Beer and do lots of lots of sake bombs.

I have no idea who taught them, or who said this and for some reason, many sushi restaurant patrons think that as soon as they walk into the restaurant, they should greet and buy drinks to the sushi chefs. Perhaps, they consider buying a drink to the chef as Japanese custom? Are they trying to “buy us off”?

In Japan, not every customer offers sushi chefs a drink. Only guests, who offer to buy a drink, are the regulars and regulars who know the chef really well and as such, it’s like buying a drink for your friend. Until such relationship is established between the customer and the chef, it will be impolite and inconsiderate to offer a chef a drink. There is almost never an exchange of glasses between a customer and a sushi chef if they met for the first time.

So, offering to buy a drink at a restaurant you visited for the first time, and to a chef whom you never met, is NOT a Japanese tradition, unless of course, you are in American and at a rock ‘n roll sushi joint on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, it happened almost every day.

Even though it was not a Japanese custom, all of the sushi chefs did not mind customers offering to buy us a beer. After all, we were making California Rolls and Spicy Tuna Rolls, which were American inventions and becoming like the Apple Pie of American Japanese food.

All the chefs liked when customers asked us what we wanted to drink. We hated when they decided to buy hot sake because hot sake was the cheap kind: no nice aroma, no nice flavor, no sweetness, just a taste and strong aftertaste of alcohol. Just horrible experience.

We liked occasional Sapporo because it was made in Japan and not like other Japanese beers made in Canada under licensed brewery. Made in Canada Japanese beer tasted inferior to the made in Japan Japanese beer and Sapporo was the only one made in Japan, so anytime we could, we requested Sapporo.

More than anything, what we hated the most was when the customers, usually young Valley boys type, ordered sake bombs without asking us if we wanted to drink or not, and a waitress brings us two shots each. They thought they were doing us a favor or think that it was tradition to do a sake bomb, thinking we would actually enjoy it?

On weekends, we worked till 2 AM and to get drunk before midnight and keep making sushi standing on your feet for 10 hours was not something none of us wanted to do. We had to pace ourselves. So, ordering drinks without consulting us was, sometimes, not so considerate. At the same time, we knew that the restaurant made more money on drinks, and more beer meant more tips to the waitresses, and more tips to the waitress meant more tips to the sushi bar, so we really could not say “No” because, eventually, it benefited everyone of us in the restaurant. It was, after all, entertaining the guests.

Looking back now, I can say thank God the restaurant only served beer and sake. If they served hard liquor, we’d be doing tequila and Jagermeister shots, who knew what would have happened.

I am really sorry that I have nothing good to say about Sake bomb. I have nothing against those how to like to do sake bombs. Sure, when I was younger, I did lots of drinking in a similar way: drunk alcohol just for the sake of getting drunk. By the way, does anyone have a good positive story relating to Sake bomb or doing shots of Jägermeister? I didn’t think so.

The worst time to offer sake bomb to a sushi chef is on a busy weekend night, because, we have to stop our hands, break chopstick into half, lay them on the glass rim, place a cup of sake and say, “Sake Bomb Sake Bomb” and hit the table to drop the sake glass into the beer. During this time, we have to stop our hands making sushi, as more order tickets come out from the printer.

All sake bomb leaves are bad aftertaste, bad headache, and bad memory the morning after.

Sushi, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll (Part 3)

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I do have to confess that there were a couple of occasions I did drugs during work.

On one Saturday night, I smoked pot about one hour before we closed. Fridays and Saturdays were busy at most restaurants and Sunset strip usually attracted “weekend” crowd – many tourist types, out of towners, valley girls and teens and young males from inland empire, who live in cities like Pomona, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, which were over 30 miles outside of the city of Hollywood. When those people flocked to the restaurant, it was sake bomb time. Many youngsters loved to buy us sushi chefs anything with alcohol and drunk with us. Sometimes, we could be buzzed or drunk by 10 PM. Because the restaurant was open till 2 AM on weekends, being drunk on our feet, making sushi required lot of energy and will power.

This particular night, we probably had three shots of sake bomb, one large bottle of Asahi each by midnight. Still, two hours to go and many more sushi to make, we decided to smoke some pot – just for the hell of it. It seemed liked a good idea to take off the pressure. Why not have fun? Most of the patrons in the restaurants were drunk anyway, we thought. Who would care and notice if sushi chefs were stoned?

We went outside through the back door, lit the marijuana cigarette we got from one of the bus boys, smoked, and came back quickly. Before I knew, I was so high that everything was in slow motion and I had to fight it to keep moving to fill the order. I looked at my ticket, picked up the Salmon Saku block, made a few slices for nigiri, grabbed some sushi rice and formed into nigiri. The temperature of rice felt strange and I told Toshi about it and he too said the rice felt different.

“It’s kind of warm and cold at the same time,” I said.

I kept looking back my ticket, and the plate of sushi to make sure I had everything. I thought I had everything and left the plate for the waitress to pick up. The order wasn’t that huge, but it felt like was a big order, which took fifteen minutes to make. I thought I spent too much time making that order after realizing there were only less than ten pieces of sushi on a plate, but I knew I had the order right because I double checked. The only problem was that I was high. The waitress looked at the ticket and checked the sushi on the plate. “Hey Kaz, there are only four pieces of Salmon Nigiri here. The ticket says four orders, not four pieces,” Kira said. “Really? Oh, sorry, I made a mistake,” I said to her and quickly picked up the plate. I had a big grin on my face and I knew Kira sensed there was something going on with me. One order of nigiri consists of two pieces; I had to make four more. I had no idea why I thought I had four orders of nigiri on the plate. I reached for the Salmon Saku one more time. The idea of making additional four pieces of Nigiri felt such an effort. My hands and body refused to corporate with me. Again, it felt like I spent five minutes making just four pieces of nigiri, which would normally take less than a minute to make.

Sushi, Drugs and Rock’n Roll

 

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Photo by Adam Swank

 

The previous owner, Shige, who died of cancer was a legend, according to Toshi.  Shige was a sushi chef and one of the owners of the restaurant. He came to the restaurant every day and partied with customers and staff. It all sounded something you saw on TV:  “True Hollywood Stories,” or something like that.

“He was energetic and charismatic,” Toshi said.

“He also drank a lot partied a lot. Shige was friendly and everyone loved him. I’ve heard that because of him, many of customers came back to Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi,” Toshi said.

Shige was a regular drug user. During the 80’s and the 90’s, many of the restaurant’s patrons came to Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi to party and many of the used and purchased drugs at the restaurant. Eventually, some drug dealers started to come to the restaurant to hang out and sell drugs to the customers. Many of the dealers did well on weekends just handing out the restaurant, drinking and eating sushi. The place was literally rocking.

It took me a while until I learned that Toshi and Kai were regular coke user as well as Alejandro in the kitchen and Juan was a regular pothead, smoking every day.

Juan was a Mexican sushi chef at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi. When I started working there, Juan had already over one year of experience working at the sushi bar. He started as kitchen chef several years ago and gradually, learned the art of sushi making filling in the sushi bar when things got busy during the weekend. Toshi and Kai taught him how to make rolls, slice fish and nigiri. Juan took on really well.

I was most impressed with how fast Juan made sushi. Given that Toshi and Kai had almost seven to eight years of experience, Juan could make a roll faster than anyone else. It seemed that, because he was non-Japanese, he was trying so hard, harder than other chefs, to learn and master the true art and philosophy of being a sushi chef. I suppose that was why we liked Juan better than Tom, not because he was Mexican and Tom was white, because it was Juan’s attitude and enthusiasm.

Juan was also younger than any of us. While we were all in our thirties, He was twenty-eight. Toshi told me that he was in a Mexican gang before he started working at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi.

“I remember when he started working here, he was, well, scary looking. His eyes were sharp, as if a hawk looking for a pray, but not a hawk, you know? It was more like Hyena,” Toshi told me.

I had difficulty imagining what Juan looked like a couple years ago, because Juan I knew was happy, friendly, laughing, hard working, loved making sushi and eager to learn the sushi. He seemed to be enjoying the every moment being a sushi chef.

“Juan has a couple of kids,” Toshi told me.

“Really? He is a father?”

“Yep, he is married, too.”

“Married?”

None of us Japanese chefs were married.

“I guess that is why Juan is such a hard-worker, right?”

“I suppose. He has a family to support and that’s doing him a good. He cleaned up, quit being a gang member and became legit, you know?”

So, you can imagine how surprised I was when I found out Juan was smoking pot every day. I’ve never guessed he was high all the time giving that he moved so fast.

“You didn’t know? Juan-chan smokes pot almost every day since he started working here. Everyone knows.”

I was dumb shocked.

“How could anyone move so fast on pot?” I asked Toshi.

“It’s a mystery to us, too. We have no idea. If I smoke like Juan, I would never be able to move that fast. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to work at all,” said Toshi.

“When I smoke pot, I want to be alone. After getting high, I want to stay in my home alone, watch TV or play a video game, so it’s quite astonishing how Juan-chan could work after smoking,” Kai said.

To get an answer, I figured that the quickest way was to ask Juan himself.

“It relaxes me,” Juan said.

“You never feel fatigued, or want to lay down on the floor?”

“No, not at all.”

I guess it all depends on your body and chemistry.

“I heard you used to be in a gang and now I see you working really hard. I think it’s good.”

“You know, I am grateful for Shige to give me the chance to work here. Without him, I wouldn’t be here and I could still be in a gang and probably, ended up being shot and die. I own Shige my life, and now he is gone, I am sad, but I am grateful.”

Juan’s story was inspiring. Later on, he was moved to the sister restaurant, which Saito bought.

Caucasian Sushi chef

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During the late 80s to the 90s, The Sunset Strip was the place to party in Los Angeles. There were famous upscale Roxy club, The Whisky and The Viper room – the infamous rock ‘n roll joint where River Phoenix died. When I started working at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi, there was still The Whisky, Sunset Trocadero Lounge, Rainbow Bar & Grill, and then some newcomers like House of Blues and Saddle Ranch Chop House, for the Urban Cowboy wannabes. What used to The Roxy was now a big Japanese restaurant called Miyagi’s.

One and the only Caucasian chef, Tom, was working couple times a week at the sushi bar. None of us liked Tom because he was not really a sushi chef and did not understand the Japanese working ethics. I despised him because he did not seem to care about the craft. He just wanted to make some extra cash to support his dance career. I knew how hard it was to make a living as a professional dancer because I met so many dancers at College I attended. It was a small private art college called California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, just thirty miles north of Los Angeles. The school is one of the few schools in the United States that offers dance program. I had met some dance majors while at CalArts, and they told me how hard it would take a miracle to get a job as a dancer. They said that most of the jobs are for music videos, concert tours and shows in New York City or Las Vegas. There really is not such thing as Full-time dance jobs out there. So, they spent most of their time doing some part-time job, or some odd jobs so that they can do go auditions for a chance to get a one time gig.

Tom told us that he used to work at Miyagi’s.

“Oh, the sushi there is really terrible. But, girls are really pretty. On weekends, the place is packed and full of gorgeous looking girls dancing and ordering at the sushi bar.”

We did get occasional nice looking girls at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi, but what Tom told us, sounded better work environment for a single male sushi chef like us, however, if you were a serious about your craft, which all of us were, working at Miyagi’s did not sound so attractive.

According to Tom, Miyagi’s had several sushi bars and some were round shaped, like a huge donut. Each station can hold one or several sushi chefs and people would come and order there. Because each of three floors had sushi bars, it sounded like a nightmare just to keep track of all the fish inventories.

“Are there any Japanese chefs at Miyagi’s?” Toshi asked.

“No, all American chefs.”

We have no idea where Tom picked up the sushi chef skills. He was hired by Saito-san and Toshi objected first, but the owner said it’s good to have a diversity with a Caucasian chef behind the sushi bar was a plus, giving a good impression, welcoming novice customers. In other words, the owner wanted to attract amateurs.

Aside from Tom’s (lack of) skill as a sushi chef, Tom was, at a minimum, friendly and talkative to the customers at the bar. When all Japanese chefs, in some ways looked down on customers who only ordered rolls, Tom took good care of patrons who only knew about inside-out American rolls, because, that was what he knew how to make. Tom also knew that inside-out roll eaters loved Sauces – Spicy Mayo Sauce, Sweet Teriyaki sauces and lots of colorful decorations with colored fish eggs sprinkled over the Tempura fried roll. The sauce was the big hit with many of Tom’s customers, and they all said, “This is Soooo Good!”

One of the specials Tom came up, or we thought he saw someone else make at a restaurant he worked before, was Forest Fire – Spicy Tuna on Top and Albacore inside, with some Ponzu and Scallions. Saito-san decided to put that on the menu and it was an instant success. We figured it was the naming. A Japanese sushi chef would never come up with a name like Forest Fire for a special roll, yet, Tome, because he was a native English speaker and Caucasian, he knew what many Caucasian customers would be attracted to. I have to admit that I did learn something from Tom, though, I disliked him.

All of us realized that; we should at least acknowledge Tom’s talent in some ways. Still, his lack of personal hygiene like showing up unshaved, dirty uniform, messy work stations, not knowing how to prep, nor make nigiri properly was a disadvantage and again, most importantly, lack of enthusiasm and motivation we felt did not help.

At MIyagi’s, Tom told us that, they could hold two hundred, three hundred customers easily. We could seat seventy customers at the most, which sounded so small compared to Miyagi’s.

When Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi started, it was the first Japanese restaurants on the Sunset Strip at the time and also, one of the first rock ‘n roll sushi bars in LA after the famous California Beach in Hermosa Beach.