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What You Always Wanted to Ask a Sushi Chef, But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Steve Yoon is the owner of Sushi Rock (1900 Clarendon Boulevard), a sushi restaurant with a rock and roll theme.

The trendy restaurant is two blocks from the Courthouse Metro station and offers customers a fun place to unwind and try some sushi, both old favorites and unique house recipes.

Steve began training to be a sushi chef in 2001 in a Japanese restaurant, Hama Sushi, in Venice Beach California. He opened up his local restaurant in 2012. Now it has six sushi chefs and is known across the area for its great sushi and specialty drinks.

ARLnow sat down with him and asked him the questions you’ve always wanted to ask a sushi expert.

What is the most important ingredient in a piece sushi?

A lot of people think fish is the most important, but the rice is equally important. I’d say they each have 50 percent of the importance in a sushi roll.

We use short grain Japanese rice, or sushi rice, and we use rice seasoning vinegar. So every sushi restaurant and every sushi chef, they use their own seasoning vinegar recipe. The rice vinegar style is totally unique to each sushi restaurant.

What are the differences between Japanese and American sushi?

The Japanese generally know a lot more about fish than American people. So naturally I didn’t have to explain so much about fish to Japanese people than I have to for Americans.

So in America, salmon, yellowtail and tuna are more popular, and Japanese customers tend to be more comfortable eating clam, scallops — more knowledge means a wider variety of fish. But they also love yellowtail and tuna. But here, not everybody but most people prefer tuna, salmon and yellowtail. So the biggest difference is different knowledge means different fish.

Is there any difference in the way sushi is prepared in the States than in Japan?

No, the preparation of fish is exactly the same in both places.

What is the most difficult thing to master as a sushi chef to make the perfect nigiri [nigiri is the style of sushi that is sliced fish with a ball of rice underneath]?

You need a lot of practice. To make the perfect nigiri sushi you have to practice for two years. I was hired by an American company, which is a different training. To make nigiri you need to make the perfect rice, which takes a very long time. Then you have to learn to cut the fish. It takes a long time before you can make a perfect nigiri, which would be a nice shape.

What are some common mistakes people make when they eat sushi?

I see a lot of people in my restaurant, and one common mistake is when they eat nigiri is to dip the rice directly into soy sauce. I recommend dipping the fish part only and not the rice. That’s the most common mistake.

What are some pointers you have for eating sushi properly, besides not dipping the rice into soy sauce?

Well, there are two kind of wasabi to be aware of: wasabi powder and fresh wasabi root. When people use the wasabi, the fresh is much stronger and I think better than powdered wasabi. I recommend the fresh wasabi root for people who like wasabi with their sushi.

A lot of people like pickled ginger and don’t know that it is for refreshing their palates. For example if you’re going to eat tuna and salmon, first you have the tuna nigiri, then you can have the pickled ginger before the salmon, it refreshes your mouth and helps taste the fish better.

What is your favorite kind of sushi?

I love salmon in many different styles, including salmon nigiri and sashimi [sliced fish without the rice ball underneath]. Also, I like spicy tuna rolls and scallop nigiri.

The preceding post was written by and sponsored by Sushi Rock.

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