Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned from Nobu

Six takeaways from my private lesson in making sushi from Nobu L.A. head sushi chef Koji-san

1. A warm welcome has the power of 1,000 icebreakers.
You don’t have to know how to pronounce “irasshaimase” (E-RAH-SHY-MA-SEH) or what the Japanese greeting translates to (“Welcome,” roughly) to feel noticed when a chorus of chefs yells it in your direction. It’s said that the custom of addressing diners drew Nobu Matsuhisa to the Japanese cuisine, and experiencing it with a group of strangers at the start of our lesson, it was easy to see why: It’s disarming, it’s warm, and it begs a response.

2. Not all sticky situations end badly.
Premium sushi rice is sticky—really, really sticky. Before and after handling it, sushi chefs dip their hands in ice water, first to manipulate the grain properly and then to clean their fingers. It may seem high maintenance, but the rice’s stickiness is what keeps a sushi roll cohesive. One trick for keeping a hand roll casing wrapped tightly? Use a grain of rice to seal the seaweed.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Halfway through building an inside-out roll, I forgot which combination of fish and vegetables to use. The answer from Koji-san: Whatever I desired. “Try it all!” he said. “It’s good.”

4. You’ve got to roll with it.
Looking down at my first roll before it was completed, I counted a multitude of mistakes. The rice was unevenly distributed, my sauce was a squiggly mess, and the cucumber slice I had selected to use was too short to reach the ends of my seaweed. Instead of backtracking, I let go and rolled. Voila!—a picture-perfect presentation.

5. It’s hip to be square.
Despite its name, a roll of sushi should be in the shape of a rectangle, not a circle. After wrapping it up, chefs apply pressure to the sides and top of a roll to give it a traditional form.

6. Sushi tastes better when someone else makes it for you.
Learning to make sushi is an experience I’d wholeheartedly recommend, but for the price of quality ingredients and materials (two things that Koji-san insists should never be compromised), nothing beats hunkering down at one of the city’s world-class sushi counters and being served. Not sure where to start? See Step 1.


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