You may love chowing down on spicy tuna rolls and creamy, delicious California rolls, but have you ever thought about what goes into making sushi? The Japanese consider making sushi to be a true art form that only the most worthy, experienced chefs can perfect. Chefs who prepare authentic sushi, in Japan or elsewhere, go through years of intensive training before they can find jobs as professional sushi experts.
Much like a certified sommelier or a craft bartender, a master sushi chef is as well-versed in the art of making sushi as he or she is in the culture and history of sushi. Making sushi properly is not an easy, frivolous profession; it’s an age-old vocation that’s treated with true reverence, especially in Japan. The history of becoming a sushi chef is rich, long and detailed.
In Japan, a chef who makes sushi is called an itamae. An itamae has excellent knife skills, knows how to cook rice to perfection, is knowledgeable about virtually every type of fish and roll, knows how to put together a menu, and has a creative, well-honed design eye. Sound simple? It’s far from it.
Becoming a sushi chef requires rigorous training. For instance, in Japan, it can take sushi chefs anywhere from five to 10 years (or more) to rise through the ranks and graduate from making rice to commanding their own sushi counter. In the United States, budding sushi chefs should hone their skills by taking sushi classes and mentoring master chefs; they also may consider getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in culinary arts.
Sushi chef certification isn’t a requirement, though there are formal sushi chef academies in the U.S. and several Asian countries. Taking sushi courses and receiving a formalized culinary education are important endeavors, but the key to becoming a highly skilled and respected sushi chef is to learn on the job. Aspiring sushi chefs should be disciplined, have an intense devotion to the craft, and be willing to train under a master sushi chef for years.
Novice sushi chefs typically first become apprentices so that they may observe a master chef and become immersed in the craft of sushi-making. The responsibilities of an apprentice chef usually include (but are not limited to) receiving and preparing ingredients, assisting with sushi prep, and keeping the work area up to health department standards.
After an apprenticeship, entry-level chefs will then usually go on to work in restaurants or supermarkets. After several years in the field, advanced sushi chefs can exhibit their skills by identifying superior fish, creating menus, hiring and training staff, and preparing a wide, diverse range of sushi types. Business-savvy sushi chefs may consider becoming restaurant owners or culinary entrepreneurs, especially if they live in thriving urban areas like New York, Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, or in other bustling, food-centric cities around the globe.
Years of Experience and Salary
As of April 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sushi chefs earned a median annual salary of $48,460 per year, which means that half earned more than this, while the other half earned less. A sushi chef salary tends to increase with time, experience and reputation, and skilled chefs can expect to command a higher salary. Sushi chefs may work in a variety of restaurant settings, while entry-level chefs may work in grocery stores or specialty food shops.
Job Growth Trend
Job opportunities for sushi chefs can be found in many corners of the world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth is expected to increase 10 percent over the next decade, while the average growth rate is 7 percent for all occupations.