{Experience} Private sushi lesson from Chef Shin Aoyama‏

Sushi Lesson Date: January 2015
Location: Windup Bird Cafe , 382 College Street Toronto, ON

I was originally asked in late 2014 to be a participating chef at the Toronto Sushi Festival. The organizers of the festival said that they would provide the ingredients, marketing and equipment, and all I had to do was come up with the rolls. I figured that if I could master 2 rolls really well, I would be able to pull this off! I was pumped at the time and partnered with my cousin who lives in Montreal, as he works in the restaurant industry. We were excited that our rolls would be judged by top Toronto chefs and that we would be participating with real chefs working in the industry.

I tentatively agreed and worked on a plan. If I was going to participate, I had to make sure that I could do it!

By the end of January 2015 rolled around, I backed out of participating. I felt overwhelmed and the logistics of participating did not make sense to me. I do not regret my decision, especially hearing feedback from attendees on how badly organized it was. The last thing I need was stress in my life!

One thing I learned about making sushi, is that mastering it is hard! There is a reason why sushi chefs take decades or even their entire lives to master their craft. During my journey to prepare for the festival, I bought expensive knives from Nella Cucina, got a private lesson from a top sushi chef and practiced at home, and still couldn’t get to a level where I would be comfortable serving my rolls to the public. 

In January 2015, I reached out to Chef Sang Kim who graciously connected me with Chef Shin Aoyama to have a private sushi lesson at Chef Kim’s restaurant kitchen Wind Up Bird Cafe. Chef Shin had worked at top sushi restaurants in Vancouver and is currently working at  Ki Japanese Restaurant and works with Chef Kim periodically at his Sushi Making for the Soul series.

Filets

Filets

The lesson was incredible as I got Chef Shin’s undivided attention. During dinner service at the restaurant, Chef Shin and I were given a designated area in the kitchen for the lesson. The soft spoken Chef was well organized and discussed what I would be learning in the 2 plus hours. He made sure that I got lots of hands on experience, which was the best way to learn.

Chef Shin in action

Chef Shin in action

That evening, we went over:

1. How to make rice properly
2. How to clean, debone and filet a fish
3. How to cut fish including snapper, sea bream, B.C albacore tuna and salmon for nigiri and sashimi
4. How to make uramaki and hosomaki rolls (rice on the inside of the seaweed and outside the seaweed)

I already knew about #1, 2 & 4, but I needed practice. I learned new and efficient ways to cut my cucumber and avocado to get even slices for my rolls.

Fish slices

Fish slices

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When cutting maki rolls, I learned that it is crucial that the knife is always clean at each slice, and to use one motion when cutting. This will ensure the rolls look clean for the final presentation. The hardest part of the lesson was making the nigiri. Chef Shin was able to do it with finesse and smooth motions, while I was clumpsy and mechanical. I still need to perfect the motion and the presentation of my nigiri sushi.

Presentation skills

Presentation skills

Chef Kim, Chef Shin and I

Chef Kim, Chef Shin and I

In hindsight, I could have saved a lot of money if knew I wouldn’t be participating in the first place, but what I got out it was a lifetime experience to learn from the best. My friend told me that I “dodged a bullet” for not participating and attending the Toronto Sushi Festival, which I agree.

Another thing I learned was that going to out for sushi is worth it, leave it to the masters!

Thank you for Chef Kim and Chef Shin for the opportunity!

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