Open Letter To The Next Great Sushi Chef

Dear Chef,

Please accept my most sincere apology for not having responded to your email about my broken string of promises for sushi classes in August and September. I have been burdened with an equally important, but much more pressing commitment: the opening of a second location of Liberty Noodle in the Eaton Centre. Many years of opening restaurants should have had me anticipating a later opening than planned, with all the delays in construction; of design pieces that just wouldn’t fit and had to be returned; the plumbing mishaps; the human resource challenges etc. And it was as a consequence of this that lead to my postponing the classes. I am happy to report, however, that the launch of the new restaurant, opened two weeks ago, has been an unqualified success. I hope you will be dropping by in the not-too-distant future to sample some of our dishes.

In the meantime, please accept my humble offering of make-up sushi-making classes for the following dates:

Saturday November 12th and Friday November 25th, both at 7:30pm.

Cost is $15 per person (not including taxes and 18% gratuity). As you may recall, this consists of making 2 sushi rolls (Spicy Tuna, California) and 2 handrolls (Salmon, Seafood Medley) and eating them too. This is the least I could do after leading you aimlessly back and forth from this site to Groupon’s and back again all these weeks.

Please feel free to email me directly (sang@libertynoodle.com) about which night might work best for you, using the following subject heading: “The Next Great Sushi Chef”. And feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment box below.

I hope all is forgiven and that you will be honoring me with your presence on one of those nights.

Sincerely,

Sang

Eat My Sushi Event: The Drake Hotel

A video from the talented Trevor Tse.  Gives a real impressionistic idea of the singles event. I have received one engagement party, and one wedding, invitation from this event. Will be catering the wedding.

Sushi and Romance- it works.

Sushi Grade- It’s A Bunch Of Rot

The one question I get asked at every sushi-making class is: “what is Sushi Grade fish?” It’s as inevitable as heartbreak. And it comes usually in response to my own question: “what are the first two words that come to mind when thinking about sushi?” The answer is, invariably: “fresh” and “raw”.  So I tease the students by meandering around the issue and speaking to the total sushi-eating experience in North America. And sushi-eating is full of rot. Literally.

Consider soy sauce. A by-product of the miso-making process, which is as low-tech as it gets when it comes to making rotten food a gastronomic enterprise. You mash cooked soybeans and steamed rice, throw in a bit of salt for seasoning, infest it with koji-kin (an enzyme-producing mold) and let it sit in a warm, dank room for weeks, and out comes miso. The black tar-like liquid oozing out at the end of the process is soy sauce. Sure, full of glutamate, which our body craves, but rot nonetheless. Bonito flakes, just to cite another example, and one of the few key ingredients making up Japan’s ubiquitous seafood broth, dashi,  is also a product of the koji-infested rotting process. And it is in everything we associate with eating sushi.

So, here is the truth about “Sushi Grade” fish: there is no such thing. Having said that, there are complexities, which will be discussed in another post. Suffice it to say for now that  a truly sushi grade tuna, for instance, would have to be hauled onto a boat, killed, cleaned and gutted, and its flesh carved up immediately for consumption, to be considered Sushi Grade. And good luck to your teeth and gums in your attempt to chomp down on it. You might as well chew on a Goodyear radial tire.   In truth, a fish becomes Sushi Grade depending on how long it has been dead. Each species of fish undergoes enzymatic breakdown at a different rate then every other. At Tsukiji market in Tokyo (and there is no less an authority), depending on how long each fish has undergone this process, they stick one of two stickers onto a fish for sale: “For Cooking” or “Sushi Grade”.

Timing is everything with dead fish. Decomposition adds to the flavor of fish just as it does to beef. For the latter, we call this process “aging”. Sushi Grade is determined by aging, too, but unlike beef, the longer you let it decompose, the more likely it will make you very sick.  In North America, Sushi Grade is as much a marketing gimmick, allowing fishmongers to reach deeper into your pocket, as it is based on a widespread confusion about what happens from ship to table- from dead to even more dead. Further obfuscating the issue is the type and size of fish, as well as if it is caught in freshwater or saltwater.

“So, Sang, what do I do if I want to serve sushi at home for my friends and family?” For now, purchase only fish the fishmonger- even the $12/hr part-time student standing behind a counter at Metro- knows the origins of. Then, make sure that this jives with what credible organizations like Seafood Watch  or Fish2Fork says is cool to eat, that by making fish purchases you will not be doing needless harm to the environment. Forget about the tags of “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade”. It means little at most fish counters. Or, at your own peril (and mine), buy mindlessly. It’s up to you. But if you are going to invite me to your sushi party and you can’t tell me where this “fresh” and “raw” fish is from, best you pass me the apron.

I will work the grill.

EAT MY SUSHI: The Singles Event Saturday June 18th


I receive emails all the time by gun-shy Casanovas who are unwilling to play footsies under the table unless there are enough damsels’ feet to play with. They’re statisticians, enjoy working the ratios. Generally, they prefer two to three female feet to each one of theirs. If they were not very good at math during school, they’re pretty good with numbers at a singles sushi-making class. And once they are satisfied with the odds, they pull out their Visa cards. If- and this happens more often than you can shake a chopstick at- I tell them that they waited too long, that all the seats are accounted for, that there is no more room, bribery is the next card they pull out.

“C’mon, we can work this out.”

“No. It’s too late.”

“Just give me a chance.”

“Sorry, you should have thought about it sooner.”

And, as it turns out, the more adamant I am about not giving in, the more fierce is their- how shall I say it?- ardor. Can it really be true of men (even when they are dealing with a heterosexual sushi instructor dude like me?): that every “no” is really a “yes” in disguise? That every “no” is really feigned protest, an obvious attempt at seduction? There is narcissism at work here, the kind that has the guy genuinely thinking “wait, this is NOT happening to me! This is me- The Dude.” They’re not getting the rose. So when they find themselves in a Bachelorette  episode, they’re pretty certain that the show is really about them. The roses are meant for them- all of the roses. The truth is really less cynical than accusations of narcissism: there is a genuine fear of not getting lucky. They put up (in this case, $50 for a dinner) and didn’t even land a coffee date. It’s a fear we all live with: “will I be liked?”; “will I be picked last on the losing team?”; “will she choose the uninteresting, but (only just) better looking guy over me?”.

The boys in my singles sushi-making classes are cool, interesting, pretty serious about finding The Right One. Most of them have been around the corner of the singles bar enough times to make most of us dizzy. They just don’t like playing footsies under the table unless the odds are in their favor.

Dudes, you better move quickly for the next event.  There are some beautiful feet under that table. And who knows, you might just find yourself in the right pair of shoes this time.

Sushi And The City

Sushi does not have a monopoly on beautiful men and women. Having worked in restaurants offering lighter, and more delicate, versions of classic French and Italian cuisines- cuisines almost always associated with romance- I have served food to my share of beautiful men and women. They came in all shapes and sizes, ages, sexual preferences, and socio-economic-cultural backgrounds. They were people who simply loved to eat good, healthy food. But, invariably, they liked to do this in the company of others.  It was only while peddling sushi that I began to notice a recurring trend: there was a growing number of that unduly stigmatized restaurant phenomenon – the solitary diner. They would often saunter in with a book tucked under their arm or, increasingly, earphones plugged into smartphones. Happy as abalone, and mostly women.

I have a theory for why Japanese restaurants seem to draw a disproportionate number of loners: the sushi bar. The experience is similar in spirit with the bar at your local watering hole. The fish in the glass fridge feels like the selection of beers on tap and the sushi chef is as present as the bartender behind the counter. However, here in Toronto, there isn’t the kind of banter across the sushi bar that you would get at a pub. There are reasons for this, not the least of which is the obvious language barrier. With so many sushi chefs being recent arrivals to Canada, they don’t always have the dexterity in English to carry on a protracted conversation. They work in silence most of the time, reading and executing the orders coming up on their printer just as you yourself are reading (Madame Bovary) and executing (I will never have a three-year affair with a dude called Rodolphe behind my husband’s back) the orders of your own life. Furthermore, a shared sushi bar etiquette is lacking here. A Korean sushi chef responds differently to a guest then a Japanese or Chinese one does. Part of it is about the nuances of cultural difference, but most of it is due to the rituals around eating sushi in public places in a city like Toronto. It is very unlike, for instance, public displays of sushi etiquette in Tokyo, Seoul or Shanghai.

In my sushi making classes, 75% of the participants are women…and single. Most of them arrive either by themselves or with other single women. I know they are single because they tell me so. My last sushi making class, on Saturday May 14th, was no different. Mostly single women with other single women, looking to have some fun while learning a thing or two about one of their favorite cuisines. Between Jaime and Nicole; Tara and Samantha; Terri and Wing, only one of them had a “significant other” who was a man, and she didn’t bother bringing him along. Jaime Hackett, a young half Korean and Irish single professional, shared an insight that seemed to express a vital truth about the lack of male participation in my classes.

“I would rather do something fun with a girlfriend,” she said, “then go and drink beer at a bar watching UFC with a boy I’m dating. Chances are, he wouldn’t be interested in making sushi with me.”

It points to that soft spot in heterosexual relationship issues, even in this day and age, where men and women still play out their roles in the ancient rituals of gender .

“It’s a macho thing,” she said, laughing. “He doesn’t want to appear like some domesticated animal.”

The beautiful women of The Broken Heel Diaries were also in attendance that night, brought along by Jess Sanchez, BHD’s kind and formidable executive editor and communications director. Jess wrote up a lovely piece about the event, with some amazing photos: The Broken Heel Diaries. I didn’t have a chance to ask Jess, Andrea, Elyse, Safra or Maram if they had male partners in their lives and, if so, why they didn’t bring them along, but my sense was that, if they did, they were just as happy to leave them at the bar, watching sports. I assumed that it was just a “girls night out”. The fact that they work together may have also played a role: they wanted some extra-curricular bonding time.

Even still, the fact of the matter was that they were all women.

A perception, important more to women then men- and mostly right- is that Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, is not only good for you, but also keeps you slim. My personal experience corroborates this perception. In all my dealings with Japanese people, here and abroad, I have never met an obese Japanese woman. The only “fat” people are Sumo wrestlers- all men- who deliberately stuff themselves with thousands of good calories a day to transform the fat in their bodies into titanic slabs of immovable muscle. (There are, of course, like all the other cultures that truly pride themselves for their culinary offerings, some exceptions to the rule.) There seems to be an intuitive understanding of this over on this side of the pond. Hence, so many young people enjoy eating sushi because they understand one of the fundamental principles about living in a big and cosmopolitan city, where appearance is just as important as substance: if food is fashion, most young people prefer Calvin Klein over Christian Lacroix: lighter, more natural, lacking pretense, and with a desire to exhibit more flesh than textile. Most men, myself included, well, we’re too busy watching UFC and eating 5lbs of chicken wings, with sauce-stained over-sized sweatshirts, to think about these matters.