Making Sushi at Home: Can you find the Inner-Jiro in you?
Posted: Jan 20 2016
If you’re a sushi lover, you’ve probably heard of Jiro Ono (小野 二郎 Ono Jirō?) the 90-year-old owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, located in an underground subway station in Ginza Chūō, Tokyo. Regarded as the #1 itamae master (master sushi chef) in the world by his contemporaries, peers and gourmands who have experienced the pleasure of dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ono’s life story is as rich and visual as his culinary offerings.
Jiro has served his famous 20-course sushi meal, which costs 30,000 Japanese yen (just under $300) per person, to celebrities and world leaders including Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The tiny, oddly situated restaurant has only 10 seats, and the meal is often rushed—according to the The Michelin Tokyo Guide, “don’t be surprised to be finished within 30 minutes.” The limited seating and world-class meals combine to give Sukiyabashi Jiro the reputation of being one of the most difficult reservations to get in the world. Before you try to make a reservation for your upcoming trip to Tokyo, Jiro’s restaurant has very strict reservation policy: they only accept reservations for foreigners who have a Japanese friend or who live in Japan. If you don’t meet this criteria but you work for a company with business affiliates in Japan, you could ask if someone there will call in a reservation for you.
Born October 27, 1925 in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, Ono has worked in the sushi business nearly all of his life. Growing up in an impoverished family, his parents were financially unable to take care of him by his first year in school. One morning, Ono’s father told the boy he had no home with them, and to find his own way in the world. The boy left home at age 9 and began working small jobs in sushi restaurants just to survive.
Over time, Ono learned the business of sushi making, although he wouldn’t begin his apprenticeship with an expert sushi chef until he was in his 20s. Ono learned a variety of skills from his teacher, and began forming his own ideas about sushi making.
His apprenticeship lasted for many years, and during this time he married and had two sons—the eldest, Takashi (隆士), 50, works for his father in the flagship restaurant and is obliged to succeed him by taking over the restaurant one day. Ono’s younger son, Takashi (隆士), left Sukiyabashi Jiro to open a replica of his father's restaurant in Roppongi Hills in Minato, Tokyo.
After struggling to support his young family on apprentice wages for years, Ono’s efforts paid off in the 1960s when he became the manager and chef of his own restaurant, working every day of the year except on national holidays or in the event that he needed to attend a funeral. Every day, he left his house at 5 a.m., took a train to the fish market to buy fresh fish for the day’s meals, went to his restaurant, made sushi all day and would not return home until after dark.
Ono plans and serves one meal to 10 customers each day, based on whatever fresh fish was available at the fish market that morning. Customers must eat the meal he plans—20 pieces served in a specific order, from lighter to heavier tasting sushi. Although his lifelong work preparing sushi daily has earned him the reputation of being the most important sushi chef in the world, he says he is still learning and improving.
“Even at my age, in my work, I have not reached perfection,” he says.
In a documentary on his life titled, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Ono says he loves his work and has always been happy making sushi. The apprentice turned itamae master became and expert teacher over time, training both of his sons to become expert sushi makers themselves. Many young, budding sushi chefs commit 10 years to Ono’s apprenticeship, and beginning learning about the different types of sushi, fish, sushi rice and preparation. It takes several years before they get to begin actually making sushi.
Ono has a long and careful process for making sushi, and watching “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” brings out the passion in homemade sushi-chef wannabe’s everywhere. Fish For Shushi offers choice tuna, salmon, whitefish and sashimi, superfrozen for fresh-caught flavor, texture and appearance to help sushi-lovers find their own inner-Jiro.