New Downtown Sushi School Plans to Teach Traditional Skills
by Richard Guzman
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – Master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi admitted that as a kid, he wasn’t exactly a great student, which makes his role as the head of a new Downtown Los Angeles school somewhat ironic.
But this is a school where Uechi is right at home doing what he does best: preparing sushi.
There is also a noble purpose, implied Uechi, who founded the small Katsu-ya restaurant chain in 1998. He has partnered with Noritoshi Kanai, president of the Japanese food-importing business Mutual Trading Company and a pioneer in bringing sushi to America, partly because he is concerned about maintaining the authenticity of traditional Japanese sushi. He also noted a shortage of qualified chefs.
Located at 843 E. Fourth St., in a gritty industrial section of the Arts District, the Sushi Institute of America opened this month and will teach a maximum of 20 students per session the art of making sushi.
“There are not enough people that know the traditional ways of making sushi,” Uechi said as he and his staff prepared sushi for the recent grand opening celebration that included speeches by several dignitaries, among them Junichi Ihara, the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles. Ihara also addressed the noble nature of the meal, saying he views sushi not just as food, but as an important aspect of Japanese culture.
“It seems there is more and more demand for sushi chefs, but it’s not so easy to find good ones,” he said.
A sushi chef in Japan traditionally trains for two years, noted Ihara. He said that relatively few people in the United States are willing to engage in such a lengthy program.
“Young people don’t want to go through the difficult training, so we have to train others here to become sushi chefs to qualify the demands of restaurants,” he said. “But there are not enough good schools here to train, so this kind of institute is long overdue.”
To ensure that traditional ways of preparation are followed, the school will teach students the types of fish that should be eaten in certain seasons and how to pair them with the appropriate sauces and vegetables, something that isn’t always practiced by sushi chefs in the United States, said Uechi.
Many of the sushi chefs in American restaurants start out as helpers in the kitchen and then work their way up to the chef level without formal training, he added.
“They may not know how to properly cut fish, the traditional way. They can learn here the variety of fish, cooking and get a very strong foundation,” he said.
For those who want to learn how to prepare sushi but are not ready to make a career out of it, the school will offer a $100 one-day course that teaches the basics of making sushi at home.
The Sushi Institute is not the first sushi school to open in the area. Others, like the Sushi Chef Institute in the Arts District and the Tokyo Sushi Academy west of Downtown also teach aspiring chefs. The new school is banking on the big names for its credibility.
Besides founding the Katsu-ya restaurants, Uechi graduated from the respected Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan. Later this year he will open a new Katsu-ya as part of the L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex. Kanai, meanwhile, is credited with helping to launch the American sushi craze. In 1965, he persuaded the owner of a Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo to open the city’s first sushi bar.
“Sushi is the most important core of Japanese food,” Kanai said. “It’s important to maintain this tradition.”
Contact Richard Guzman at email@example.com.
Why I Came to Sushi Institute of America?
At the age of 43 after selling my company just over a year ago it was time for a career change. I was ready for my next adventure and I wanted to do something I was passionate about, something I truly loved to do.
My friends, family and colleagues thought it was crazy that I wanted to get into the “Sushi” business.
I did some research and found a “Brand New” school that had the same ambition that I had, to train people that are serious about becoming a “Real” Sushi Chef, the traditional Japanese way that has been taught for hundreds of years. The best part about the school is the fact that the President and Executive Instructor is “Katsuya Uechi”; owner of the Katsuya Restaurants that are very successful throughout Los Angeles, and expanding to Las Vegas and Miami.
I signed up as soon as I learned about it and the most exciting part is that I would be one of the first six students enrolled in the “Brand New” school taught by Katsuya. Some people said he would not be teaching the class, it was just his name. Mr. Katsuya Uechi has been at the school every day personally teaching us along with his very talented group of instructors that have all trained in Japan and worked at his very successful restaurants.
This is serious business for serious students that want to learn the “Best” from the “Best”. Don’t waste your time or Mr. Katsuya Uechi’s time if you aren’t serious about Sushi & the traditional Japanese Cuisine, he takes it very seriously and demands the utmost dedication from his students.
For me it is an opportunity of a lifetime to get into a new career where there are so many new opportunities in an industry that is booming while the economy as a whole is struggling. Go to any of the six “Katsuya” Restaurants prior to opening and you will be standing in line to get in.
I have a high aspiration to learn as much as I can in the school, and combined with my years of Executive Management experience look forward to running one of the “Katsuya” restaurants.
This opportunity has given me a whole new appreciation for the Art of Japanese Cuisine.
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