Update: How To Make Nigiri- Oyakata’s Nigiri Hand Technique Video (親方の握り手返し)

This article is an update on: Showmanship, and Balancing and Eating Nigiri- how to make Edomae Sushi

Following my article on how to make nigiri, I’m happy to present to you a video performed by my Oyakata on how he makes nigiri sushi. The original video was shot during my time working there and has been edited to 50% speed to make it easier to watch. Please enjoy the video and hopefully it makes the technique used clearer. I will strive to publish an article on different nigiri techniques soon. 

Happy sushi making~

Even though I personally do not speak Japanese, all of us at the restaurant always referred to the restaurant owner and head chef (or executive chef as he liked to call himself) as Oyakata. In the english speaking world, the closest everyday translation to Okayata is master, but that holds several inaccurate connotations. The term master tends to imply a master-slave or master-servant relationship whereby the master holds all the power. However, if we look more closely at the kanji for Oyakata (親方), you’ll notice a deeper meaning:

The first character, Oya/親, means parent, 

whilst the second character, 方, means the way/path,

Put together, it can be said to mean “the way of the parent”, implying that he was the father figure in the restaurant and that all of us were his children. Whilst of course the atmosphere working at the restaurant was strict, and he used to lash out in anger at many of us quite frequently, and I am grateful that my time there was fun and very fulfilling, unlike some of the horrors that I have heard other people express when they talk about undergoing an apprenticeship in Japan. I fondly remember how he would always jokingly ask when I would shave my head like a traditional apprentice, or when I would go open my own restaurant. Especially when he would laugh when I showed him pictures of the sushi I tried to make myself at home. Strict as he was, I did feel like I was a part of this sushi restaurant family, particularly when I was gifted a Loopwheeler jumper from him when I left. 

I think his attitude was best described by this passage in Sukiyabashi Jiro’s book, where he talks about why he’s so strict on his apprentices not wasting tea leaves when making tea for customers, implying that he is harsh on them because he wants them to succeed in the future:

“A sushi chef in the habit of using the same amount of powdered tea for when there are two customers, five customers, or eight customers will create waste elsewhere too. And when he becomes independent, he’ll be in the red. But when it’s completely ingrained in you while you’re young that things belonging to other people are valuable, you’re bound to treat your own things as valuable when you become independent. It’s not because I don’t want to waste powdered tea or because my wealth decreases a little that I get angry. It’s not that. It’s that if they keep doing such things, they’re never going to make it on their own. They’ll never make delicious nigiri.”

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