The global craze for sushi has helped fuel the growing number of people choosing to become a sushi chef, not only in Japan, but around the world. The art of making sushi is more complicated than just placing a piece of fish on top of a ball of rice, though.
In order to become a sushi chef, you’ll need specialized training in the world, and artistry, of Japanese culture and cuisine.
Sushi Chef Job Description
The sushi chef is definitely no “one-trick pony” when it comes to culinary skills in the kitchen. Besides knowing how to prepare, and wrap, different types of items on the sushi menu, they also need to be able to make a host of other traditional Japanese dishes. Typically, the sushi chef will also find his or herself managing and training others in the kitchen as well as handling their own station.
Responsibilities and duties of a sushi chef include:
- Knowing the proper methods of cutting fish, meat and vegetables
- Preparing stocks, soups and sauces
- Properly making sushi rice
- How to handle fish and ingredients for sushi preparation
- Preparing all types of Japanese cuisine
- Order food and supplies when needed
- Selecting fresh and superior ingredients
- Continually check the quality of raw and cooked products
- Instruct cooks on preparation, cooking and garnishing of food
- Maintenance and sharpening of knives
- Keeping sushi station up to sanitation and safety standards
- Positively interact with customers
- Create an entertaining and special experience for customers
- Seek to push the limits in creativity creating signature dishes
- Creating an appealing presentation and garnishes
- Designing new types of sushi rolls
- Keeping up with the latest trends
- Training and motivating staff
- Perform monthly inventories
- Plan and price items to meet profit margins
Sushi Chef Salary Expectations
According to PayScale.com’s January 2013 report, the average yearly salary for a sushi chef is close to $35,000, including bonuses. The average hourly wage is $16.75 with the chance for bonuses and tips. It’s important to note that these numbers reflect national averages, and your experience may be slightly different.
As with other careers, there are a number of factors that affect a sushi chef’s earning potential, including: experience, the type of employer, and where the job is located.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate sushi chef from chefs and head cooks in their projections. The 2012-13 BLS report shows chefs and head cooks with little or no change through the year 2020. This projection may change slightly with an uptick in the economy, or an increased trend for new sushi restaurants.
How to Become a Sushi Chef
Traditionally, to become a sushi chef in Japan required anywhere from 8-to-10 years of intense study in the art of sushi. This changed dramatically in the last few years as various culinary arts schools and universities made it easier to gain expertise as a sushi chef in as little as two-to-three years.
There are even crash courses that can be completed in less than six months!
The Sushi Chef School Curriculum
If you attend a sushi chef program, some of the topics and skills you may learn include:
- History and culture of Japanese cooking
- Preparation of fish and shellfish
- How to cook, season and store sushi rice
- Japanese cuisine basics such as stock, soup and sauces
- How to make rolls and sushi
- How to prepare, cut and present sashimi
- Use of Japanese ingredients
- How to maintain, sharpen and use Japanese knives
- Various cooking methods used in Japanese cuisine
- Decoration and garnishments
- Japanese desserts
- Restaurant management
- Calculation of food costs
- Sanitation, safety and health department regulations
- Understanding and creating Kaiseki-ryori
- Use of Japanese cooking utensils
- Introduction of fish and seafood