Sushi may look like a slice of fish draped over a ball of rice, but sushi preparation is an age-old Japanese art form. Japanese sushi chefs traditionally undergo ten years of training--but if you're aiming for a sushi chef career, a three-month American program should do the job.
From Minakai to Itamae-San
In Japan, sushi chef training is guided by an Itamae-San, or expert chef. The beginning student's title, Minakai, means 'watch and learn'--and this captures the essence of the apprentice's job. It can be three years before the apprentice slices into a fish. In the meantime, the Minakai perfects the art of cooking and shaping rice, cutting vegetables, washing dishes, all while watching and learning.
Only in later years does the apprentice learn the delicate knifework that is the essence of the sushi chef's job. Blowfish, for example, must be cut in such a way that just the right amount of poison is released into the fish to cause a slight tingling in the diner's mouth.
American Sushi Chef Training
The American sushi chef trainee's job is considerably easier. A sushi chef certification program typically lasts twelve weeks, and includes classes in knife skills, traditional Japanese cooking techniques, food safety and handling, fish identification and preparation, sushi and sashimi techniques, and presentation.
A sushi chef certificate will get you into your first sushi chef job, but you can expect another four years of on-the-job training under a master chef. This will be your chance to perfect such techniques as sealing maki rolls, centering the fish, and slicing different fish. You'll also get a chance to show off by creating the restaurant's 'omakase' sushi, or chef's choice, usually a very traditional sushi or marinated dish.
Today's sushi chef no longer needs to have a Japanese pedigree to land a job. American sushi chef training programs offer a rigorous introduction in the exquisite art of sliced fish. So if you fancy yourself a culinary samurai, pick up your sushi knife and get to work. If you're not sure you want to commit to a full-time, on-campus culinary degree, consider exploring various culinary courses offered through online schools.
"How Sushi Ate the World," The Observer Food Monthly
"Japanese Cuisine Cooking School," About.com
"Sushi History," EatSushi.com
"The Sushi Chef Who's a Cut Above the Rest," StarChefs.com