Sushi chefs spend a lot of time working behind the sushi counter before they’re considered experts in their field. This is because sushi is complex and requires not only excellent knife skills, but knowledge of fish, raw foods and how flavors will play together in a single bite. Sushi chefs must also learn how to create a work of art that is flawless and delightful to the eyes.
Formal training isn’t required for a sushi chef, but it might help accelerate learning the basic culinary skills needed to become an excellent sushi chef. Culinary arts programs that specialize in sushi or Japanese cuisine are better than generalized culinary programs, because they focus on sushi instead of a realm of culinary cuisines. The California Sushi Academy, for example, offers sushi-based training and certification. If you choose to go through a formal program, you could spend as much as one year up to four years -- depending on the degree and program.
Apprenticeship combines hands-on work experience with classroom training. Most sushi chefs seek out this training option because of the experience. As an apprentice, you’ll work under a highly skilled sushi chef. You’ll be expected to complete several hours of coursework, including food safety and sanitation. You can find apprenticeship programs through the American Culinary Federation or the U.S. Department of Labor. Apprenticeship slots are limited and the competition for a sushi apprenticeship is often fierce. So, having some culinary background or experience might help your chances of being granted a slot.
Even with formal training, you’ll need to pack on a few years of work experience. For most sushi chefs, learning the skills and art behind the perfect sushi roll can take as long as five years. To learn the necessary skills, you’ll likely train under the direct supervision of a Certified Master of Sushi -- a professional certified in technical proficiency and excellence in sushi preparation.
To prove your skills as a sushi chef and benchmark your capabilities, you might consider certification. This is what separates an average sushi chef from an excellent one. The All Japan Sushi Association, for example, offers sushi chef certifications that exhibit your sushi skill level. The basic Sushi Proficiency Certificate can be obtained by anyone after a one-day seminar. The Certified Master in Sushi, however, is a professional certification that requires a practical and written exam and is only for working chefs – not sushi enthusiasts. The amount of work experience can vary, but you’ll be required to pass an examination that focuses on rice preparation, rolls, different fish and your creativity. The California Sushi Academy, on the other hand, only requires completion of a 12-week course and passing a final skill test to be certified.