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Japanese food is more than just sushi, and being a Japanese chef is about more than knowing the ingredients. Traditional Japanese cuisine follows longstanding practices and methods for cutting, preparing and cooking foods that excite more than just your taste buds. Once considered exotic, Japanese cuisine now exerts its influence over the American palate.
Sushi may look like a simple dish of fish and rice, but preparing sushi takes specialized training in how to cut and prepare fish, cook perfect rice, make rolls and wraps, and balance flavors. Sushi chefs are indoctrinated in Japanesee culture and cuisine, where they also learn traditional dishes such as sashimi, sukiyaki and kaiseki ryori, a.k.a. Japanese haute cuisine. Learning to cut, decorate and garnish is a major part of training, and top-notch knife care is essential to being a successful Japanesee chef.
Hibachi chefs cook meals on a large iron skillet, usually with an audience sitting around it. Preparation and showmanship are paramount here. Hibachi dining follows the Japanese tradition of communal meals, but these meals are prepared with gusto. Hibachi chefs toss, chop, spear, dice and cook with superior dexterity, making the meal as much about the preparation as the eating. Hibachi meals typically are kaiseki ryori, which are multi-course meals. Training to become a hibachi chef can be many years.
Running the Kitchen
Running a Japanese kitchen demands the same managerial duties as any type of kitchen. Head Japanese chefs must ensure that ingredients are fresh, colorful and always in stock, that the all-important knives are sharp and clean, and that all equipment is in working order. Head chefs supervise cooks and other food preparation workers, develop menus and recipes, hire and train staff, and ensure that all sanitation and safety standards, both in-house and legal, are followed.
Becoming a Japanese Chef
Some higher-level restaurants or luxury hotels may require 10 years experience in traditional or cutting-edge Japanese cuisine before they will even consider you. Like chefs of all specialties, Japanese chefs often begin their careers as assistants or station cooks, blending sauces or preparing vegetables for later. Many schools specialize in teaching Japanese cuisine, and many Japanese chefs earn certifications in specialized cuisine such as sushi. Being a Japanese chef requires a lot of creativity and flair, good time management skills, and a taste for elegant-yet-complex meals based on tradition.