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.

Celebrities – Mick Jagger

 

1024px-Pop-Art_-Mick_Jagger-_Öl_+_Acryl_auf_Leinwand_von_Silvia_Klippert.jpgMy biggest encounter came when I was at Ginza Sushi on Ventura Blvd. That night, I was working as an assistant manager. At 6 PM, we have a few customers, not too busy. That was when I picked up a phone for a reservation request. “Six people for Phillips,” the man said in a low voice. I said, “Yes, confirming the table for six at 7PM. Thank you,” and hang up the phone.

At 7PM, I almost forgot about the reservation, when a tall man walked in through the front door. Normally, I would see the guests walking our front garden, through the front window, but I was talking to the chefs and never saw this man walking into the restaurant.

“Phillips for six,” the tall man said confidently. When I looked at him, I immediately recognized his face and realized who he was. I almost, shouted his name.

“Mick!!”

There he was, the Mr. Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger himself, standing tall, right in front of me.

I’ve been listening to The Stones since I was fifteen, when a friend of mine introduced me to Rock ’n’ Roll. My first “real” Rock ’n’ Roll albums were Deep Purple and Emerson Lake and Palmer, then The Rolling Stones after that. I never got into Beatles because I became a fan of The Stones. I bought almost all their records, listened to them over and over, remembered lyrics, used English dictionary to learn the meaning of “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar.”

So, when Mick walked into Ginza Sushi, for a moment, I had no idea what just happened. I don’t remember how my face looked, but I am sure it looked like my jaw was about to drop. I escorted Mick and his friends(?) to the table right in the center of the restaurant. I handed out the menus and took their drink order. To my surprise, Mick ordered Evian, no Sapporo. Just like Axel Rose’s friends were at Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi, Mick’s friends looked like they were in the music industry. They seemed to be engaged in conversation about business, though, I could not hear the word they were saying. After the waitress brought drinks and took their order, I immediately called Sen on his cell phone.

“You are not going to believe this. Guess who is at Iroha, right now?” I said in Japanese.

“Who?”

“It’s Mick. Mick Jagger.”

“No way!” Toshi replied.

“Yes way. It’s Mick. It’s real Mick. He is sitting at a table and just placed an order. You should come down. Where are you?”

“I cannot. I am at Lakers game at Forum. It will take me over an hour to get there and by the time I get there, Mick will be gone.”

I remembered the time when I encountered a famous pop singer at a soba noodle shop in my hometown. My mom called the neighbor’s daughter who was a big fan, to come to the restaurant, though, when she arrived, the pop singer was gone, missing just by a few minutes.

‘He just ordered food and doesn’t look like he is in a hurry. If you leave right now, you might make it.”

“No, I won’t. It’s tempting, but I am going to pass.”

“Ok, no worries.”

I hang up the phone. Toshi did not seem as excited as I thought he would be. I thought he was a big Stones’ fan, too, so I was unsure why he didn’t rush in to come over here.

Toshi always had his digital camera at the sushi bar, in case someone famous walks in. I did not have a camera with me and it was long before a cell phone with a camera.

“Do you have a camera here?” I asked Akio and Mako.

“No we don’t,” Akio said.

“Would you mind if I go to the gas station across the street to buy a disposable camera? It will only take me two minutes.”

Seeing how excited I was, Akio said yes.

I rushed out of the restaurant and run across the intersection, into the gas station, hoping they would carry a disposable camera. I looked around inside of the store and found one, right by the cashier. I was so relieved. I bought one and rushed back to Ginza Sushi. The whole trip literary took me three minutes.

When I got back to the restaurant, Mick and his friends were still there. His food was not yet ready. I must have called three to four friends of mine and told them, quietly, that Mick Jagger was in the restaurant. No one said they would come down and just like Toshi, they were just too busy or too far away to come down. I just couldn’t understand why there were passing this golden opportunity.

I did everything I could to get close to Mick: bringing his food to the table, pouring water and green tea, checking to see everything was OK and trying to pretend that everything was “normal,” though, I was not. After the credit card transaction, I asked Mick if I could take a photo with him.

“Yes, of course, “ he said with a smile on his face.

I stood next to Mick and he put his shoulder around me saying, “Here, this is better, yes?” I was static.

The disposable camera had 24 exposures, and I only took two pictures with Mick. The following day, I took the camera to have the pictures developed because I could not think of any other photo I wanted to take with the camera, and most importantly, I just wanted to see the pictures as soon as I could.

Celebrities – Luis Miguel

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One of the regulars at Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi was the Mexican singer, Luis Miguel. He came and sat at the Sushi bar many times and every time he came, all the Latino guys got extremely excited like children whose parents told them that they were going to Disneyland or something. They all asked for his autograph, took pictures with him, standing side by side. It was comical, funny and charming the way they acted. They were all rushing back and forth inside of the restaurant, forgetting that they were at work. Some of the waiters forgot to bring out the orders to the table and instead, they flocked around Luis and engaged in a conversation, as if to say, “Forget work. I am busy. This is more important. You know who this is? It’s Luis Miguel. We are hanging out with Luis Miguel. Leave us alone.”

I knew about Luis Miguel and heard of his songs before, seen on TV and magazines, but I had no idea how big he was. When I asked about Luis, Javier said he is like a god in Mexico and all the South American countries, next to Julio Iglesias. Toshi, Kai, Jun and I had almost no interest in his music, so to us, it was just another customer, sitting at the sushi bar, enjoying the sushi.

Luis had some CDs with him and handed some to the bus boys, who put it into the CD player and started playing his songs. All the Latino guys went crazy, started singing the songs together.

Luis did seem to enjoy the attention he was receiving and was grateful for all the people to be his fan. He was very nice, smiling all the time and had the charismatic aura around him, infecting everyone around him, though, most of the non-Latino customers in the restaurant had no idea who he was and what was going on.

Celebrities

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During the two and half years working at Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi, I saw more Hollywood Movie Stars and Rock’ n Roll Singers than any period in my life. Some stories are funny and some are interesting.

Here is the funny one.

It was Friday afternoon around 4PM, time for me to go on a break. So, I made some Thai noodle called Bah Mi, with crabmeat. I made two servings: one for me and one for Mia. We were the only people in the restaurant and we sat at the one end of the sushi bar.  Suddenly, two customers walked in. They sat the opposite end of the sushi bar and grabbed the menu, when one of them, one with a huge plastic comb on his head and a pair of shades, looked at us and what we were eating and said, “Hey, what is it that you are eating?”

“It’s Thai Noodle I made,” I told the guy.

“I want that,” the man said quickly.

“It’s employee meal I cooked and it’s not on the menu. So it’s not available for you to order.”

He looked quite shocked, which left him speechless.

His friend told him to order from the menu. There was something strange about the way talked and behaved like they were “on” something. I sensed that they were high on drugs, like marijuana. They ended up ordering the standard fair like California Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll and Salmon Nigiri, with a bottle of Sapporo and glass of sake. After spending quick twenty minutes or so, they walked out the restaurant and we never saw them again.

“Did you realize who it was?” Mia asked me. She had somewhat amused and surprised look on her face.

“No, I don’t know who it was,” I said to her.

“It was Bobby Brown, the singer, you know?”

“Oh, yeah, now you mention it, yes, I remember his face now. I’ve seen him on TV and music videos.”

“You said No to Bobby Brown. That was too funny,” Mia said.

A few months later, a tall black woman walked into the Rock ‘n’ Hollywood Sushi and sat at the sushi bar. It was early in the afternoon, around 5PM. I immediately recognized her as Whitney Houston. She ordered six pieces of Shrimp tempura as an appetizer, so I put the order into Pedro in the kitchen. “Seis Camarones,” I said. I had a bad feeling about this because the Shrimp Tempura Pedro made never came our right. I had no idea what he did, maybe it was the tempura batter or the temperature of the oil. I know Tempura is simple: it’s just frying ingredients in oil, however I can never figure out how to make a perfect Tempura. In Japan, there are restaurants serving only Tempura and just like a sushi chef, there are many Master Tempura Chefs. One of them, Saotome-san is said to revolutionize the modern tempura. I’ve never been to his restaurant to taste his tempura and hoping to have that opportunity to visit and taste his tempura soon.

Ms. Houston never ordered anything else from the sushi bar. No nigiri, no sashimi, just shrimp tempura and cup of Green Tea. When Pedro brought six large Tempura Shrimps out with dipping sauce, Whitney picked up one of them said, “These are no Shrimp Tempura. The real Shrimp Tempura never look like these. They look different. They are too fat and too thick.”

I knew this was coming.

“I’m sorry, should I send it back?” I asked.

“No, that’s OK,” and she ended up eating three pieces of Shrimp Tempura and left the restaurant within five minutes.

Later I heard about Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown getting a divorce. I gathered they must have been in town to discuss the details. I have no idea what Bobby Brown was going through back then and I suspect that emotionally, it must have been difficult for him, judging by the way he behaved when I saw him.

One of the regulars was Mexican singer, Luis Miguel. He came and sat at the Sushi bar many times and every time he came, all the Latino guys got extremely excited and asked for his autograph, took pictures with him. It wasn’t comical, but for some reason, the way those Latino guys excited looked funny because they acted like small children gone crazy. Rushing back and forth inside of the restaurant, forgetting that they were at work. Some of the waiters forgot to bring out the orders to the table and instead, they flocked around Luis and engaged in a conversation, as if to say, “Forget work. I am busy. This is more important, to hang out with Luis Miguel.”

I knew about Luis Miguel and heard of his songs before, seen on TV and magazines, but I had no idea how big he was. When I asked about Luis, Javier said he is like a god in Mexico and all the South American countries, next to Julio Iglesias. Toshi, Kai, Jun and I had almost no interest in his music, so to us, it was just another customer, sitting at the sushi bar, enjoying the sushi.

Luis did seem to enjoy the attention he was receiving and was grateful for all the people to be his fan. He was very nice, smiling all the time and had the charismatic aura around him, infecting everyone around him, though, most of the non-Latino customers in the restaurant had no idea who he was and what was going on.

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.

Tamago Yaki

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I watched Toshi made Tamago Yaki at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi for over a year and a half, yet in the end, he never taught me how to make one. I felt that Toshi taught me how to fillet fish only because the owner told him to teach me how, but not Tamago. He just did not want to teach it to me, or maybe, he thought I was not ready? Either way, the owner never suggested Toshi to teach me how. As it was the case for filleting fish, I felt I was ready to learn. I was eager. Every time Toshi made it, I wanted to try. His Tamago came out really good – fluffy, juicy with dashi, golden yellow in color, not burnt and had great texture, aroma of a freshly cooked sweet egg. I never learned the recipe from Toshi either.

It is said that a true test of a great sushi restaurant is Tamago, so you should order it at the beginning, to find out how it tastes

. The long time ago before I became a sushi chef, I heard that Tamago Yaki is a good test to determine the skill of a sushi chef. Maybe it was my Mom who told me that or I read on somewhere, I don’t remember now. It sounded strange at first because, why would you want to measure sushi chef’s skill with not fish, but with cooked egg?

One explanation I came to learn is that fish was given and that is what sushi chefs learn first. Cleaning, cutting vegetables and then comes rice. You do that for three to five years and then, you move onto fish and after basic fish, you get to make Tamago. So, being able to make good Tamago translates that you’ve been a sushi chef for a while.

Basically, there are two styles of Tamago Yaki at Sushi restaurant in Japan. The first kind is similar to the ones Japanese mothers make at home: egg, sugar, salt and dash of soy sauce. Tamago Yaki is one of the most popular items for Bento Box Lunch. Everyone in Japan, one time or the other, has enjoyed homemade juicy egg custard for the Bento lunch. Tamago Yaki, Egg Custard is slightly different from the one served at Sushi Restaurants. They are called Dashi Maki. Dashi is the traditional stock made from Wakame and Bonito Flakes. The recipe calls for about 1/3 sometimes almost 1/2 the amount of egg mix, which makes it very juicy and at the same time, harder to make. The reason it’s called Maki (to roll) is because of how it’s made. Dashi Maki uses a special rectangular pan made of copper used only to make Tamago. Here is how the cooking procedure works. You pour some egg and dashi mix onto the pan, let is sit for a while until it starts to harden half way, then, you fold the egg about two to three times to form a “roll.” Then, you pour the egg mix again, this time, to make sure it goes beneath the previously rolled half harden egg. Wait for the egg mix to harden, and then roll it again. Repeat until it becomes a desirable thickness.

One day, Toru came up to me and asked how I was doing.

“Hey Kaz, how are things going for you? It’s been about three months since we reopened. You’ve been working really hard and we like working with you. You are a great worker. You get along with everyone, and you are eager to improve.”

“Thank you, Toru-san. I think I am doing OK. I’ve learned a lot since I came here and it’s been really exciting. Half of the fish we use, I did not know how to fillet it before I started working here, all thanks to You and Ko. Ko knows a lot and is a great sushi chef. I like working with him also. He is very nice to me, teaching me a lot.”

“That’s good. I was thinking if you’ve ever made Dashi Maki before?”

“No, I have not. At Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi, the head chef made it and I never got a chance to make it.”

“OK. I think it’s time you should start making one.”

“Really? I heard it’s tough. I always wanted to make one. I wish they had taught me before I came here. I watched it and could never figure it out. Is it an OK for me to learn? I’d love it if I could do.” Although I was eager, I was nervous at the same time.

“Sure, I think you should. It’s OK. You need to practice it every day for a while. In the beginning, you are going to make lots of mistakes. You will burn the eggs; you will not be able to roll up well. But, that’s OK. So, we will eat your mistake as Makanai every night. That’s not a problem. I am sure everyone will enjoy your mistake and gladly eat it”

“Great, but I am bit nervous.”

“You’ll be just fine,” Toru assured me.

So, my Dashi Maki training got started the following day.

I finished the basic prep, rice, vegetables, and fish, so I went into the back kitchen to ask Toru to start teaching me the egg custard.

“Ok. I am going to show you how to make the egg mix. You need to put together ten eggs, sugar, salt and a small amount of soy sauce and add dashi in a bowl. Soy sauce is for the flavor, not for the taste. Here, we make the dashi already for you. Dashi needs to be cold because if it’s hot, it will harden the eggs. You don’t want that. Use the chopsticks to mix it. Mix it slowly to avoid too much air getting into the mixture. Too much air in the egg makes holes when cooked, so you need to mix it gently but thoroughly. That’s tricky. After you finished mixing, you want to strain it to remove the egg whites so that cooked egg will only have the yellow part.”

Like Toru said, mixing the egg was not so difficult, but tricky.

“When you finish making the egg mix, put the pan on the stove, over medium heat. Fill the pan with oil, about half way. The oil will help to heat up the pan evenly. After a minute or two, drain the oil into the container. The pan goes back to the stove and keeps heating up.”

“The most difficult part is the heat control: Not too hot, not too cold. You want to cook it quickly without burning the egg. A trained chef can do it in less than five minutes. That’s how long you should aim for, when making Dashi Maki. You also want to heat up the pan evenly, so move around the pan side to side and up and down to make sure the pan stays hot consistently. Dip your chopstick in the egg mix and run the tips of the chopsticks on the surface of the pan. As you run the chopsticks, the egg should cook right away, and that is the sign the pan is ready.”

Then, Toru started to pour a small amount of egg mix into the pan. Immediately, the egg mix began to harden, but there was some half hardened mix on top.

“Speed and heat control. That’s the key. The faster the better, but when you have too much heat, you will burn your egg. The egg needs to be without burns and fluffy, texture, no brown, golden yellow. Now, you try it.”

“OK.”

When I tried it the first time, my egg got burnt on the first layer; the second layer came out all mushed up like scrambled egg. I was unable to flip the egg. It’s the same motion a chef would make when he tosses the contents of a flying pan in the air using just one arm.

“You only need to use your wrist, not the whole arm. Just quickly flex your wrist and you should be able to roll your egg,” Toru said.

I flipped the pan using only my wrist. The egg did not flip, just stayed on the pan. I tried it again, this time, with more force. The egg flipped kind of half way and it became a lump, instead of a nicely rolled sheet of cooked egg. Also, by the time I rolled the egg, the back side got slightly burnt, becoming brownish. I tried to turn down the heat and Toru-san said, “No, keep the heat. You need to practice with high heat. Lowering the heat is not the way to do it. If you need, you can remove the pan away from the heat, or raise it up to control the temperature of the pan and not the heat itself.”

“OK,” I said.

My first Tamago Yaki came out, nor “rolled” up and was a bulky lump sum of sad looking scrambled egg: Not juicy, fluffy nor had a nice texture. I felt awful. It tasted like tamago and was good enough for employee meal.

I practiced it every day for the next thirty days and finally, Toru said my tamago started to look, something servable.

I continued to practice for the next month or so and was able to serve my tamago in a couple of months. Since then, I’ve been practicing making it and I am glad I have a chance to learn to make it, because, it really is hard to make a good tamago.

I now understand why ordering Tamago at a sushi restaurant is a good test to find out the skill of a sushi chef: good tamago means the chef has spent a good amount of time practicing a variety of sushi techniques through several years of training. The tamago is a proof of that and his devotion and discipline in addition to the skill and to most Japanese, commitment and discipline come first and more important than the skill itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monterey Fish and Sustainable Fish

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Getting fish for our sushi class was one of the challenges especially because we were not a restaurant and we did not do events every day. We couldn’t place large orders of fish and some of the big fish companies required us to order a whole fish weighing five to ten pounds, while many times, we just needed a couple of pounds. When I was working at Hecho, the sushi chef, Sachi-san suggested ABS Seafood, so I went there and got some fish like Tuna, Walu, Salmon, Ocean Trout, Shrimp, Kampachi, Tai Snapper and fish from Japan in the beginning. Because ABS is such a big fish company, I couldn’t just order half fillet of Salmon and had to order a whole fillet. That was then I thought about going to Monterey Fish Market. I remembered when my chef Friend Eric took me there for his private dinner. We got there wholesale location in Pier 33 at 10 AM. Eric told me about this Japanese Sushi Chef named Ted (no one knew his real name) would be there and when we got there, sure enough, Ted was there, eating Ceviche for breakfast with all the staff at Monterey Fish. Later I learned that Ted was running a now-closed sushi bar called Hama-Ko in Cole Valley. Ted was funny man, making interesting remarks and jokes, laughing all the time.

I rode my bicycle to Monterey Fish Market in Pier 33 to meet with Tom to discuss getting some fish for my sushi class. Their retail store is in Berkeley, and the wholesale operation was out of Pier 33 warehouse. I mentioned him about my visit with Eric and Tom told me he knew Eric. He gave me a price list and also, put me on their daily email list. The price list had how and where the fish was caught and that was when I remembered Eric talking something about Seafood Watch Guide by Monterey Bay Aquarium. Until then, I forgot about Sustainable Seafood. Eric also mentioned about these guys at Monterey Fish Market helped to create the Seafood Watch Guide with Monterey Bay Aquarium. (The founder of Monterey Fish Market, Paul Johnson was a board member of Seafood Watch Guide.) That was when I started to think about using only Sustainable Fish, because, why not use something that is good for the environment. It would be challenging and if we could only use sustainable fish, that would be a good sales point for our business.

I went home and looked at the price list, and marked the fish we could use and compared with Seafood Watch Guide to see if they were sustainable. Beloved Hamachi/Yellowtail from Japan were all “Avoid” list, so they were out. Many farmed Salmon and wild caught salmon were also out, but local and some from Washington were OK. Tuna from Hawaii and California were OK and so were Shrimp from Gulf. I paid more for sustainable fish especially for Shrimp and Crab.

We used to buy Blue Crab by Chicken of the Sea, at Trader Joe’s. You can find them at the refrigerated section, right next to smoked salmon. This Blue Crab from Mexico in a can made excellent California Roll when mixed with Mayo, Lemon Juice, Soy Sauce and Black Pepper. I saw the sign on the can that said, “Committed to Sustainability,” so I kept using it thinking it was sustainable, until I found out that their guidelines were different from the ones by Seafood Watch Guide, thus, non-sustainable according to Monterey Bay Aquarium. So we switched to Dungeness crab from Washington and California, which cost us three times more. There were many times, when I thought about using non-sustainable fish, thinking, just for once, no one would notice it. But, the bottom line is that I would know and that is a broken promise to myself, so even if it meant costing us more, I stuck to buying sustainable fish because that is what I decided to commit and I can say now that I am glad I made that choice.

So, it turned out that we are the first and only sustainable sushi class company in the US and the whole world! It is true that there are many sustainable sushi restaurants in the US and around the world and by accident, it so happened that we are the only ones doing what we are doing so far.

Our position in using sustainable fish is, never to force anyone to use sustainable fish. We just want people to recognize that it is a choice available for them make, should they decide to do so. If not, we hold nothing against them. Using local and sustainable fish makes sense to us because fish tastes the best when in season and caught locally.