Sushi Secrets from a Master Chef

Kenichi Kawamura is a Japanese chef who grew up learning about and making sushi.

I sit down with Kawamura at Zipang sushi restaurant, so he can share his experience with me over California rolls and miso soup.

Kawamura was born in Osaka, Japan, before he moved to Tokyo, the birthplace of sushi, when he was three.

“I want a sake, a drink,” he laughs as soon as he sits down. The drink is ordered along with our food.

Kawamura is a former employee of the restaurant. He and his old boss, Naoya Umino, make jests at each other in Japanese throughout the evening.

Sushi chef Kenchi Kawamura poses at Zipang restaurant in Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Kawamura moved to Canada six years ago. (Photo by Miriam Johnston/SAIT Polytechnic)
Sushi chef Kenchi Kawamura poses at Zipang restaurant in Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Kawamura moved to Canada six years ago. (Photo by Miriam Johnston/SAIT Polytechnic)

Kawamura explains that his favourite food to make is classic Japanese miso soup.

“Miso soup is like comfort food to us,” he says.

Kawamura points out that Kombu kelp and dried bonito flakes are the most important ingredients in Japanese cooking.

“If you make miso soup without bonito flakes and Kombu kelp, the taste is not that great,” he says. “They are the key element of Japanese cuisine, without them, we can’t make anything.”

He says the hardest thing he had to learn was how to clean and gut a fish. He snidely adds that he also had to work under a really mean chef (his old boss).

“I may be mean, but he’s dumb,” Umino counters.

Kawamura says that having a sharp knife is very important to making sushi.

“If you use a dull edged knife, you are torturing the fish meat,” explains Kawamura. “Treat your knife like your baby.”

Umino says he’s had his knife for five years, and he uses it everyday.

He explains that one side of the knife is the dark side and the other is the light side, the same as the Japanese yin yang.

Kawamura shares an experience in which his grandfather explained to him how sashimi should be eaten.

One should put a bit of wasabi on top of the fish, and then dip it lightly in soy sauce before eating. He says that this preserves the flavour of the fish.

Kawamura says that garnishes are also a very important part of Japanese cuisine, especially sashimi.

“Garnishes are very important, without it, it is not sashimi,” he says.

He tells me he likes to use “yuzu”, a Japanese fruit similar to lemon, as a garnish.

His favourite seafood is skipjack.

“I love it,” he exclaims. “It’s so good!”

If you’re ever wondering why ginger is always included as a garnish, it’s not just because it looks nice.

Kawamura says that the ginger is there to eat after the seafood, because it cleanses the palette, and kills some germs leftover by the raw fish

Kawamura says that the best thing about being a chef is that he can always find the best Japanese restaurants and seafood.

Sushi restaurant tips from a pro

He lets me know that out of all the sushi restaurants in Calgary, only about five are actually Japanese owned.

“If the chopsticks are placed facing the right, it is not Japanese owned,” says Kawamura.

He also explains that Japanese chopsticks are different from their other Asian counterparts.

“Japanese chopsticks are more tapered for precise plating,” says Kawamura.

Kawamura has worked at Nobu Tokyo, several other sushi restaurants, and even a Japanese pub. He immigrated to Canada six years ago.

He’s now working at an Italian restaurant. I ask him whether he’s an Italian chef now.

He laughs and says, “No, I’m a Canadian chef now.”