I took a sushi workshop at Nobu in West Hollywood last Saturday afternoon from 1-4pm. A recent avid convert of sushi (it's an acquired taste), I eagerly anticipated that fated afternoon. I've been to both the Malibu & West Hollywood locations. Before I begin, however, I'd like to share something that is close to my heart. Given the recent natural disaster that the people of Japan have endured, those very people have reacted with such a grace & dignity that I would be so lucky to posess had I been in that situation.
I'm sure the Japanese people here have friends and/or relatives there right now that they're worried about. To top that, there has been a huge decrease in diners at many sushi restaurants. I went to my favorite sushi restaurant shortly after news of the tsunami. On many previous occasions, there was a half hour wait minimum. My most recent visit yielded no wait & 2 empty tables. That has never been the case before.
Evidently, there has been a stigma (mostly imagined) regarding seafood, particularly in Japanese restaurants. As a frequent consumer of seafood, especially seafood, I know that most of our seafood comes from Alaska & Canada. It always has. The two exceptions are the occasional octopus & yellowtail. Even then, yellowtail is also locally farmed in Australia. I realized just how pervasive the stigma was when I overheard a fellow "classmate" of the workshop ask one of the head chefs about the radiation found in the seafood used today.
The head chef, Alex, patiently explained the source of our seafood (which I already knew) and added that he had a radiation gauge/meter that he used. The classmate then asked to see it and try it over her plate of sushi. Meanwhile, our sushi instructor politely smiled as he walked by. I could tell that the woman did not mean to be malicious; she simply didn't know. But it is a touchy subject right now. And so, I feel the need to impart any information that I have, to avoid further confusion.
I put myself in the shoes of a Japanese person. Imagine I was worried about my people, family, & friends. Then imagine that my own business or even my family's, or friend's business (sushi restaurants) dramatically decreased because of some calamity I could not control. Then imagine if I had to hear questions as the one I just mentioned, and had to keep a brave facade each & every time? I mean, really, what else do they have to worry about? And no, I'm not Japanese. I'm Taiwanese but my grandparents & parents speak Japanese, the school systems in Taiwan were implemented by the Japanese, and there are many cultural similarities between the two.
For starters,the geography is eerily similar. Japan & Taiwan are both islands that are no strangers to typhoons & tsunamis. Indeed, the cheapest land in Taiwan is near the coast/beaches & only fishermen live there out of necessity. There are nuclear plants in Taiwan also which means there would be similar explosions if a natural disaster were to occur. The governments & economic models are similar. The countries are both run by a democratic government on a capitalist economy. The cultures both love Western/European influences.
Now on to the sushi-making! The class was greeted upon entering,by the bartender (Markus), general manager, co-manager and host (Daniel). Markus asked each of us if we would like to start with a drink. Most of us had water, including me. I wanted to be lucid enough to properly learn to make sushi!
We noshed on edamame with sea salt & grilled shishito peppers as they introduced themselves & explained Nobu's legacy as a restaurateur. We were then led to a prepped table where the head chef, Koji, (who learned from Nobu) stood beaming at us. He effortlessly demonstrated what we were to be making a few times & then encouraged us to try.
Daniel jovially doled out wooden square sake cups to each of us & encouraged us to try their reserve sake (of the Nobu brand, made especially for the restaurants, similar to Fig & Olive's philosophy on their olive oil & balsamic vinegar). He told us the sake would take the edge of the stress of sushi making. I didn't need to be told twice! Not normally a fan of sake, I found this sake smooth & subtle. Any more subtlety & it could be mistaken for water if not for the ensuing buzz!
We made 2 handrolls (with tuna, avocado, sprouts), California rolls (with real crab), Shrimp nigri, and Salmon nigri. We had containers (similar to the squirtable ketchup bottles) of mayonnaise and spicy mayonnaise to be used at our discretion.
Koji was patient & funny. He lightened the mood when he saw some of our frustrated faces whilst we attempted to make sushi. Some of us were hindered by the rice sticking to our hands! Luckily, there were metal buckets full of cool water for the purpose of freeing the sticky rice from our hands. It really is harder than it looks. While the salmon & tuna were pre-cut & waiting for us on plates at each station, I knew that cutting the slices of fish was half the battle.
A sushi workshop taken years ago in Little Tokyo detailed the proper way to cut the fish to maximize the taste of fresh fish. I remember when I took this workshop in Little Tokyo, the instructor was strict & stern. When he saw our creations in the making, he emphasized that one creation had too much rice, another, too little. He then noted that one creation had the mound of rice packed too compactly, and another, too loose.
The instructor used the analogy of a perfectly manicured Japanese garden. I personally found it a little stressful but I came out of the experience with a lot of appreciation for sushi (as a consumer). Every step is done with precision & care. Koji exemplified this when he did his demonstrations with lightening quick speed. After all, he has been doing this for 30 years. Indeed, the sushi instructor (I've since forgotten his name) in Little Tokyo emphasized that he had to be an apprentice for 10 years (prepping, cleaning,etc with seafood) before he could be promoted to sushi chef.
Once we were done creating our sushi rolls, Koji came around & graciously cut the rolls for us using his high grade Japanese steel knife. I took a picture of my final product before we were encouraged to eat our creations in the dining room. Before we dug in,however, we were given a tour of the kitchen & sushi bar where we watched the cooks in action & a cook prepare sliced sashimi. That was enough to whet our appetites & we soon came back to the dining room.
While we ate, Koji walked around to answer any questions we had (and obliging our requests to take pictures with him). I don't like taking pictures of myself but wanted to remember this experience so I asked to just take a picture of him. He obliged. Koji made sure we each had a Nobu gift bag with the sushi mat that we used, some of their chopsticks, our sake cups, nametag, & chopstick holders. I left happily full & vowed to come back again for their amazing sushi & acclaimed fusion creations. First & foremost however, is to master the creations I learned!
903 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood,CA. 90046