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Monday, January 30, 2012

Is American Sushi on the Decline? Some Say Yes.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 8:46 AM

Fancy-pants rolls like this may be distracting Americans from the fact that our sushi isn't so good anymore. - DAN PERETZ / SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Dan Peretz / Shutterstock
  • Fancy-pants rolls like this may be distracting Americans from the fact that our sushi isn't so good anymore.

It's no surprise that when the Washington Post brings a storied, Japan-trained sushi chef to a neighborhood, fusion-happy sushi restaurant, he doesn't like what he's eating. What is interesting, though, are the reasons why. It's not necessarily the fact that most of the sushi rolls are covered in gloopy sauces and excess fish. It's that the rice is not cooked properly and the fish is cut with sloppy strokes. 

Part of the reason for the decline of sushi standards is that American demand for sushi long ago surpassed the supply of well-trained chefs, Post reporter Tim Carman explains. Chefs who'd trained for a decade before stepping out on their own began to quickly train new sushi chefs, who then went out and opened their own restaurants and trained others. "Your sushi, in other words, might be a copy of a copy of a copy," Tim writes. On top of that, a sushi boom in Japan is keeping good chefs from emigrating, and U.S. immigration policy is making it harder for American restaurants to hire experienced staff from Japan.

That said, ethnicity isn't the marker of a good sushi chef -- the storied sushi chef's staff, Carman writes, are Chinese- and Guatemalan-American. And the Post lays some of the blame for the decline in sushi on Japanese sushi chefs who assumed Americans wouldn't appreciate good sushi if they tried it. 

Is American sushi going the way of red-sauce Italian restaurants and cheap Chinese takeout? Perhaps. But in San Francisco, you can also find people behind the bar like ICHI Sushi's chef, Tim Archuleta and Sebo's Michael Black, who may have been trained in this country but respect the most important elements of Japanese tradition: the fish and the rice.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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