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What Is a Sushi Chef?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A sushi chef is a food preparation specialist who has been specifically trained to prepare vinegar rice that has a topping of vegetables, meat or fish. Making the rice per traditional Japanese standards often takes many years of training with masters of the art. This specialty chef is also traditionally expected to be an expert at preparing other conventional Japanese dishes, such as ramen, udon, tempura, and gyoza. Skill at cutting raw fish called sashimi is a common prerequisite to become a sushi chef.

Traditional sushi is most often topped with fish. The sushi ingredients may be raw or cooked or a combination of the two. Contrary to popular belief, raw fish served without seaweed or rice is called sashimi, not sushi.

If the chef position is located in the United States, highly-developed skills in preparing maki are often prerequisites to be hired. Maki is a seaweed-wrapped roll popular with Americans who are known for their preference for blended flavors. The most preferred makis are generally believed to be the California Roll and Philadelphia Roll.

In addition to having skills of a sushi bar chef, a sushi chef in a full-service restaurant is commonly required to have knowledge and experience in preparing all varieties of meat, game, seafood and poultry. Her expertise is typically expected to include the successful preparation of mother sauces, stocks and soups. Being able to develop and implement her own recipes or variations of classic recipes is important to the success of the chef.

Besides requiring exemplary culinary talents, a sushi chef is frequently required to train, supervise and manage kitchen personnel. She is also typically required to order perishable and non-perishable food items based on quality and availability. Budget guidelines are generally expected to be followed for these purchases.

Following food safety handling and storage guidelines is imperative to excel in this position. Since the majority of the food served is fresh, if not raw, when served, storage at exact temperatures and in precisely defined environments is essential. Preparation areas, such as counters, grills and cutting boards, are normally particular regions of concern for sanitation.

Education often entails traditional culinary school training coupled with working as an apprentice for a master or senior sushi chef. To be considered for employment as a sushi chef, most Japanese restaurants require extensive training. They also commonly expect the applicant to have solid experience in creative food presentation and sushi rice preparation as well as advanced knife handling skills.

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Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Sep 17, 2012

@kylee07drg – Being a sushi chef is very stressful! Imagine having to manage several workers and a kitchen while crafting beautiful culinary works of art.

My roommate worked as a waitress in a sushi restaurant, and she told me that she could hear the sushi chef yelling at the other workers in the kitchen on a regular basis. His training had made him a perfectionist, and he tended to expect the same level of quality from workers who had nowhere near the training that he had gotten.

I imagine that the sushi chef went home stressed out at the end of every day, and his workers probably did, too. It's a good thing they had access to healthy food like sushi to stave off high blood pressure and heart attacks!

By shell4life — On Sep 17, 2012

Sushi chef knives are pretty expensive tools. My neighbor is a sushi chef, and he told me that he paid hundreds of dollars for some of his best knives.

I suppose that the knife you use really matters. Personally, I would just cut the sushi with any sharp knife, but chefs take their tools seriously. Sushi making is sacred to them.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 16, 2012

I believe that sushi chefs are very highly trained, because they can produce some of the most delicious, beautiful meal presentations I've ever seen! I don't even know what all is in a sushi roll, but the flavors blend together perfectly every time.

I think it would be awesome to learn to be a sushi chef, but I know that I don't have the discipline. I would likely give up when things got stressful. However, being able to prepare my own sushi every night might be worth the stress of learning, because sushi is addictive and expensive!

By DylanB — On Sep 15, 2012

My favorite sushi chef wears a headband to work every day. It is black and has some sort of Japanese writing on it.

I suppose it is part of the traditional sushi chef garb, because I have seen other chefs at sushi restaurants wearing them. I don't know whether it is purely ornamental or if it helps keep sweat out of their eyes in the kitchen.

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