Arriving to Harutaka in Ginza you’ll find yourself amidst a high-end sushi restaurant when the elevator takes you to the 6th floor. But before you can enter his sanctuary, the restaurant has a waiting area, a genkan where clients wait. Finally we are greeted to the counter has 12 seats and it is jam-packed. Given he is a rising star, my guess is he will become one of the serious contenders for the next 3-star Michelin.
Clients are coming and going and chef Harutaka can do three seatings but that’s takes a small army of staff which he has. He is well equipped and the environment is pristine, and so is the chef. He is neatly dressed, his hair picture perfect, immaculately dressed with full and absolute control over his counter.
He has two chefs at the counter and they are all busy slicing fish, passing fish and doing whatever the he asks. The hierarchy is well-defined there. He says quietly shari, and the chef from the back comes with more rice instantly and he says “wasabi cho-dai” and the chef to his left replenishes his wasabi.
Harutaka is 40 years old and is a disciple of Jiro family, the well known chef who made the world of sushi known all over the globe. There is no doubt this chef is well trained and expert enough to maintain a steady pace. His precise way of working and his organization is more than impressive. The chef works with the white light cloth that all chef’s use in Japan named sarashi fukin. This is the single most important element except for the chef’s knife, or is it?
His small sarashi fukin (seen in the photo below) is something a sushi chef cannot work without. He uses it each step in his work; wipe his area, dry his fingers, clean his knife and in Harutaka’s case he uses it in the most particular way. Once he cuts the fish he often places his fish gently on his cloth, patting it while his other hand is getting ready to prepare the rice. The coordination of is almost ballet like, I begin to see something that I overlooked. It’s not that I never noticed the sarashi fukin, it’s just that most chefs use it differently.
Harutaka meticulous movements are all practiced and predetermined. Sushi is a Japanese food and f0r a good reason and it becomes obvious when you think it over. Each chef practices the same movements over and over again until he perfects them. This is simlar to other Japanese karate, judo, Iaido, etc. Its not like being a western where you are challenged by the different working elements each time such as temperature. In sushi the elements are more or less the same and there are variables are minimal.
So the chef must use his utmost hand-eye coordination to cut fish with his razor-sharp, then knife hold the fish in one hand, and take the rice with the other – and get it to the right size and shape. So in effect the chef must feel what he’s doing when taking rice and then gently (yet firmly) manipulate the fish and rice to make the perfect nigiri. This is the show and craft.
I watch Harutaka san over and over taking some of his fish in a multidisciplinary way. He touches the fish on the white cloth and reduces some of the moisture for better hand action. I also noticed he uses his hands to pick up his uni an unusual practice.
The uni @ Harutaka’s comes from oma where the famous hon maguro are caught and sold each year for record prices. In Oma the best known sea urchins are from Hironocho, where divers used diving helmets and this practice is referred to as nanbu-moguri: http://www.nanbumoguri.com/index.html
The one aspect of Harutaka’s sushi I appreciated was his rice and never underestimate a chef’s rice. He uses kometsu, so I thought about it more and more. Most sushi chefs use aka-su and it over flavours the fish and overwhelms the fish.
So what about the fish quality? I am impartial to smaller fish and I find that 99% of the sushi chefs use large catch and I prefer small catch. It’s the same when it comes to uni (sea urchin) most chefs use a more yellow or orange and I prefer the more white type: https://mesubim.com/2016/01/19/uni-bafun-finally/
The experience of sushi is a pathway of purity and each person has his or her own perspective. I have my own and after watching the generation of the chefs from the 1980’s, I begin to feel the changes. Having said that, sushi is an extremely complex food, and any apprentice understands the harsh work it takes to make it looks so easy. Making sushi isn’t just about rice and fish, it’s about respect, discipline and details.
Categories: Sushi Styles