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Sushi Chefs-do they have to be Japanese?

Do Sushi chefs have to be Japanese? Lau on chowhound had a lengthy post related to Yuba restaurant. He began with his skepticism about Chinese chefs making sushi (I believe he is Chinese) yet concludes that Yuba defied this concern.

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7782...

IN that thread, Silverjay suggested that the result was a sort of "Pied au Cochon" style of sushi, the notable Montreal restaurant that serves delicious, but extremely rich and oppulent food with a surfeit of fois gras included in many of the dishes. He intimated that the result is not restrained and subtle and as the "yuba" name suggests since "yuba" is a Kyoto style dish. Kyoto cuisine is noted for it's elegance and refinement. So if this is in fact a divergence from Japanese cuisine-is it the amalgamation of Japanese training (the Chefs trained in Japanese restaurants) with American sensibilities along with Chinese culture?

I have some thoughts of my own. Some people judge food by the feeling it conveys. This feeling reflects the attitudes of the kitchen staff and the wait staff. It also reflects the artistry and precision of the culture. The Japanese culture has an enormously precise component that feels elegant without being compulsive; movement is economical, precise and almost meditative. There is an enormous visual aesthetic and some of it is related to their historical religious roots in the Zen tradition as well as Shinto traditions. I believe you can actually feel the difference when an attentive mindful chef makes sushi. I had dinner at Arubaya Kinosuke with a Japanese friend a few years back. WE both commented that sushi made by non-Japanese doesn't feel right. He was surprised that I recognized that, but it was important to him.

So if I want Kyoto style cuisine, I want the cultural feeling. IT's the same when I go to Pied au Cochon-I really enjoy the rich opulence of the Quebecois tradition of Martin Picard and his Quebecois chefs. If I go to an Italian owned and manned sandwich shop in Boston's Little Italy, there is something almost magical about the tradition that has been carried on for generations reflected in that sandwich and even in the bread itself.

Japanese is perhaps the most "persnickity" of these cultural affects. You can't just reproduce it by adding the right ingredients. You have to have the movements of a Japanese chef which seems to require enormous training. In the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it became apparent that the training process is extensive and demanding. The apprentices literally spend years learning just how to prepare rice-I believe they said 10 years. They would even massage the octopuses to soften their meat before they cooked them. This produces an incredibly satisfying result that actually, for me, imparts a sense of peacefulness and elegance. This is not somehow conveyed when I eat Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese made sushi.

I remember going to a small noodle shop in Tokyo once. It was totally amazing and there was this sense of care that went into the food preparation. It was not a nervous kind of intensity, but rather a relaxed sense of precision that went into that food. I'm all for fusion, but there's a great place for respecting tradition. In fact, some of the best fusion comes out of highly skilled professionals who are adept in their own tradition. Hence, when, for example, Eric Rippert at Le Bernardin puts an Asian spin on his cuisine, there's something quite decent, though I must say I prefer his French style dishes. Or when Nobu Matsuhisa combines Japanese and Peruvian, it's quite nice.

Does anyone have that same feeling or am I halucinating?

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  1. At least in Japan, you can barely find a woman preparing sushi, let alone a non-Japanese person. The rumor is that a woman's hands are too warm...there are other chauvinistic aspects too, but I don't really care who makes my sushi. I KNOW that most of the "sushi" places in NYC aren't run by Japanese people, and the staff originate anywhere from China, South Korea, the Dominican Republic...sure you have Japanese sushi chefs at many establishments, and I believe those are typically of a much higher quality (it's also good to practice language skills), but if I have the craving, who knows "who" I'll find.

    1 Reply
    1. re: BuildingMyBento

      Good points. Chauvinism does seem to be a bad trait of many cultures, as I think you might be suggesting. I do notice that my enjoyment level is quite different with a great sushi chef, and I have yet to experience one who is not Japanese. But your experience may be different. I had some wonderfully crafted sushi by a Korean sushi chef. It just wasn't the same somehow. I didn't know he was Korean when I went into the restaurant. But after eating some of the sushi, it didn't feel as good. But as you may be pointing out, it wasn't a "bad" experience. It just wasn't optimal for me.

    2. My question in that thread had nothing to do with challenging the assertion that non-Japanese cannot be sushi chefs. My wife is Japanese and I lived in Tokyo for many years, so we enjoy sitting at the counter and conversing in Japanese with a chef as an anecdote to homesickness.

      I'm a hardcore Japanophile but the first to admit that there are many cultures with rich, very particular culinary sensibilities that take time and experience to learn. I don't know about 10 years just to learn to make rice, but for anyone cooking any cuisine I would hope they went through some experience that rightfully prepared them to serve the cuisine- whether through apprenticeship, study, travel, experience, etc. I'm sure like anything, there will be some people that just get it better than others. It really helps to have spent time in Japan because the unique sensibilities there, while shared in spirit by other countries (seasonality, freshness, aesthetics, etc.) the application is quite different.......And honestly, I'm so over the whole Jiro Dreams of Sushi thing. There are a ton of great sushi restaurants and chefs in Japan. There are plenty of people who don't think he is the best or can't stand his attitude or the environment in his restaurant...........Also, the restaurant you are referring to in NYC is Aburiya Kinnosuke. Did not realize that they have ever served sushi. Usually consider it a robataya/izakaya.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        Yes, ofcourse. It just so happened that the conversation came up at that restaurant. Thanks for sharing your views. And thanks for the correcction on the spelling. I think you make excellent points about the need to enjoy many cultures. Also, Jiro is an extreme example, as you point out, and certainly not for everyone.

        1. re: Silverjay

          It would be wonderful if you could describe a range of experiences of eating sushi in Tokyo; what are some of the great sushi places, and what did you enjoy about them?

          1. re: foodlovergeneral

            Some of my experiences and many others have been well-covered on the Japan board over the years.

            1. re: Silverjay

              Thanks, I have just looked at that board. Very nice helpful stuff.

        2. "Sushi Chefs - do they have to be Japanese?"

          No.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bacardi1

            Care to elaborate Bacardi1? Any examples in New York that you consider great?

          2. Sushi Chefs-do they have to be Japanese?

            Was Michael White born in Italy?
            Is Gavin Kaysen French?
            Is Rick Bayless Mexican?

            Answer to all of the above questions: No.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sgordon

              I was thinking of Andy Ricker as well. I always enjoy reading about his traveling exploits in Thailand researching cuisine.

              1. re: sgordon

                I agree they dont have to be from the same place that the cuisine comes from, but the chefs you point out spent time in their respective countries of reference and studied the food of the country. The typical non-Japanese sushi chef I've encountered has come no closer to studying Japan than watching Pokemon cartoons. The standard roll of 8 different fish with 4 kinds of sauces is off putting to me. Give me one piece of nigiri with an immaculate piece of fresh fish. I bite into it and I'm struck but the favors in such a simple dish when it's done right. So few get it right because honestly I don't think they ever tasted it. Anyone can learn a craft. It takes time and dedication to do it well. Your basic neighborhood sushi place probably doesn't have someone who has had the proper training. That said, one of my favorite sushi chefs is Korean. Probably helps that he grew up in Japan though.

              2. The sushi I get at Safeway in San Francisco (made, or at least assembled, before my eyes) is better than the worst sushi I've had in Japan but not as good as the best: it's about the quality of an average railroad station sushi place. The people making it are not visually of Japanese ancestry, and they don't do the picky little things like make sure the rice grains are all aligned in the same direction, but it's a quick to-go lunch.

                I think a lot of the fussiness - women can't be sushi chefs, it takes years to learn how to make rice - are chauvanism and a search for exclusivity, After all, if anybody can do it it's not special and you couldn't charge the big bucks or mega-yen.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tardigrade

                  So it's all a global scam by male sushi chefs but you've somehow cracked the code by discovering brilliant sushi at Safeway?

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    No, not brilliant, but certainly not the worst I've ever had. Trader Joe's sushi, OTOH, should be declared an offense against taste.

                    The keys, as I wrote, are fresh ingredients prepared just before consumption.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I studied an ancient Japanese marshal art called Kyudo for a number of years. The master was one of the top bow makers in Japan. His apprentices had to study for years and years. There wasn't the slightest bit of exclusivity or haughtiness or arrogance in his being. This was merely a humble obeiscence to tradition of how to train properly. My experience with Japanese culture was that there may be a compontent that is all about a continual sense of striving for improvement to try to continue towards mastery. It's not just in the Japanese culture; many high level performers, golfer, musician, whatever-tends to continue to train and improve. Tiger Woods had a teacher that he continued to study with at the height of his career. Vijay Singh has trainers as well.

                    In Asian culture, there is a notion of gaining repetitive mastery of simple tasks as an inroad into the more complex functions for any particular art. For example, Chinese caligraphy artists are required to master a single stroke for ages before going on to more complex drawings. I think artists in the west had similar trainings in years past. It's about mastering the simple to accomplish the complex. I think this component of Japanese culture is quite admirable and is important in why the food culture of Japan is so compelling. I don't think this is about exclusivity alone. Perhaps there is some of that too with some people.

                  2. racially, ethnically, genetically japanese? absolutely not! japanese TRAINED, in japan, just like a japanese-born-and-raised sushi chef in japan would be? i'd say so.

                    i don't think race has anything to do with it; i DO think the culture, training, methods and sensibilities (as well as the rigorous protocol) required of aspiring sushi chefs in japan is difficult or impossible to replace.

                    that said, i also love "foreign" sushi for what it is. it's kind of like i love american chinese food: it ISN'T chinese! but it IS good, in its own right. american, korean, vietnamese, what have you... each culture has taken sushi, which is japanese in origin (sort of... edozushi, which is what we today think of as "sushi", is japanese... the true history of "sushi" is long and convoluted and actually originates somewhere in SE asia, but that's a whole 'nother conversation...) and transformed it into a "new breed" of food, if you will.

                    pizza in japan is not american pizza, which is not italian pizza, but it's its own thing, which can also be good as long as one accepts it for what it is.

                    so, i think to be a good or great sushi chef, IF true japanese sushi is the goal, it's necessary to have trained in japan, and have spent extensive time there immersed in the culture. i absolutely think to be racially japanese or not is beyond irrelevant.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: chartreauxx

                      Very nicely said. The transmission of culture in Japanese food, in particular sushi, is quite important and is extremely special for a certain type of experience. It's not racial, but it is regional.

                      But there is a very nice place for other types of sushi that is rooted or developed in other in other cultures and traditions.

                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                        Yes definitely-I rarely if ever eat in Sushi places that aren't 100% Japanese staffed-any time I've ever 'slipped' the food has been a disappointment.

                        The only exception I've ever found was a Fijian in Nadi who trained in Japan-his technique was so/so but the fish was exceptional.

                      2. re: chartreauxx

                        So, an American (or, for that matter, a Japanese-American) who trained under Yasuda in NYC wouldn't be valid, since they didn't actually train in the country of Japan?

                        Would a French chef who trained under Daniel and Ripert but never set foot in France be inherently any less of a French chef than one who did? Nonsense. You might as well say they have to be a Pisces, or between 5'7" and 6'1", or have blue eyes.

                        1. re: sgordon

                          I think you make an interesting point. Yuba, as i mentioned in the original post seems to defy the point we are making-that a western chef can be trained in Japanese cooking-but the result may not have the same cultural feel as the chef himself. I have definately experienced at top end restaurants the sous chef not being as good as the original including Ripert's restaurant. Japanese culture has a very unique sensibility which in food is quite amazing, and it usually doesn't, thought it could-transfer to non-Japanese chef's in my experience. Something does transfer from any great chef, but it misses a certain cultural approach, somehow.

                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                            Exactly. The lack of nuances and technical expertise might suffice for sgordon's rudimentary palate, but it might be lacking for a connoisseur. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, well-intentioned chefs who try to incorporate Japanese ingredients or cooking techniques, or other experiments in this fusion, to their American/European-trained sensibilities oftentimes lack those nuances and I often find those flaws quite stark. However, it is exciting when a chef hits that balance, but I find it rare. More often, I have found that Japanese chefs who delve into western techniques/ingredients more successful. It seems more likely because they have a fuller understanding of both culinary approaches and their nuances. Perhaps in the next decade or so some of the western chefs will find ways to strike that balance with more experience and learning about Japanese cuisine (or whatever fusion they're working on).

                            1. re: E Eto

                              Excellent points. The previous chef at Atellier Robluchon in New York was Japanese and had an incredible mastery of French cooking. That was one of hte most delightful restaurants in New York when he was there. Eric Ripert, thought an awesome chef, is not always so spot on when he adds a Japanese or Chinese touch to his cuisine.

                              1. re: E Eto

                                ONe other point-I always noticed that on the original Top Chef show, the western chefs did not acquit themselves well against Japanese chefs. Rarely did the American chef defeat the Japanese chef. The difference showed up in a sense of grace and elegance as well. I was very disapointed when the show ended to be replaced by the American version. It just wasn't quite as fund to watch. I felt like I was watching marshal art masters on the Japanese show. On the American show, I felt like I was watching good cooks, but not people in control of the beauty and elegance of the entire environment around the food. Morimoto is on the American show, and he is definately an excellent chef and a delight to watch in that tradition.

                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                  I should have said "Iron Chef", not "Top Chef". Sorry.

                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                    Iron Chef Japan was a bunch of shit. I used to watch it first run in Japan. I enjoyed it, but nearly without fail the Western chef got railed. It was a Japanese show that played to Japanese sensibilities. I wouldn't take anything away from it more than the spectacle of it.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      I tended to think that the Japanese chefs produced more elegant and beautiful dishes that seemed more appealing at least visually. Also the chefs seemed to have more mastery. The Japanese chefs did almost always win, and I am sure you are correct about Japanese sensibilities-the judges were all Japanese. I did try an American who won-Ron Siegel. He was the chef at Masa in San Francisco. He won on a lobster dinner against the Japanese counterpart. His restaurant Masa was one of the best in San Francisco, in my view. I preferred his food to Gary Danko, and amazing restaurant there. He trained at Daniel and French Laundry. Oddly though Masa was started by a Japanese chef originally, decades before Ron Siegel was the chef, he didn't have any Japanese training. So I loved the show, and despite it seeming a bit unfair to westerners, there was a method to the madness.

                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                        My recollection from watching in Japanese was that the dishes tasted closer to Japanese sensibilities and comments from the judges reflected this. I don't recall the elegance and beauty being an issue. This was ten plus years ago. I know that the translations in English weren't faithful to the original and were simplified and done for effect rather than accuracy. Anyway, the show was deliberately camp and probably offers more cultural insight than culinary.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          Translations can be challenging in terms of conveying cultural sensitivities. It's interesting what you say about the show. It wasn't my impression, but perhaps you are right. It was definitely "campy" from a western perspective. I had assumed that it was somehow not so much so from a Japanese perspective, but your post suggests that it's campy in Japan as well. The Chairman sure embodied "camp". But the food was incredibly beautiful and I always came away wishing I could try the work of the chefs showcased. I do often feel that way watching the American Iron Chef as well.

                                      2. re: Silverjay

                                        Of the 300 or so episodes of the original Iron Chef series, only about 30 had Western chefs. I did some quick math and it seems that the Western challengers won about 11 or so of their matches, and two went to a draw. That's about even with challengers in general, regardless where they're from - the Iron chefs tend to win about 2/3rds of their battles. So the winning percentage wasn't actually any higher vs. Western chefs than Japanese ones.

                                        Just sayin' if the Western chefs got "railed" - well, so did every other challenger.

                                  2. re: E Eto

                                    His type of thinking is endemic in the US, but especially NYC- "My little corner of the world has everything, why do you need to go elsewhere?".

                                    I don't think the Ripert/ Boulud example is very applicable in this case. There's a deeply embedded French culinary tradition here in the U.S. French techniques and nomenclature are often in de facto usage and there are local French culinary schools. It would be great if there were Japanese ones here and if, at some point, Japanese cuisine reaches the same level of cultural penetration that French has.

                                    Is there really any doubt that spending quality time in the country will make you a better chef for that cuisine? Some of the most acclaimed Italian and French restaurants outside of those respective countries are in Japan and it is well-known that those Japanese chefs spend time in those countries training. Japan has a history of this sort of study abroad through immersion, going back to the late 19th century when, as part of the government policy, they sent young Naval officers, engineers, educators, many other civil service people abroad to learn foreign methodologies, techniques, etc. to bring back to the mother country. This is probably what accounts for the higher level of acumen of Western sensibilities and perhaps, more success with fusion.

                                    One thing I might challenge Japan on is the level of reciprocity it offers with respect to hosting foreign culinary students. I don't know, but suspect that there are not as many actual institutional or private opportunities. I don't know for sure, just suspect that.

                              2. re: chartreauxx

                                If you want the best sushi in my area, you oddly skip the Asian-owned places, and go with two small places in strip malls. Each is owned by white guys (though one of them is married to a Japanese woman, and her family helps out) who spent several years living and learning in Japan and who still shut down for 2-3 weeks in the off season to go back to Japan for a refresher on proper technique.

                                1. re: beachmouse

                                  Japanese trained, and they continue to get training and recognize the need for training. That seems to be a part of the notion of kyokuro. Seems to suggest that there is a need for Japanese cultural infusion and training.

                              3. Do sushi chefs have to be Japanese? I shouldn't think so, any more than hamburger cooks need to be trained in Hamburg.

                                As a diner on a limited budget, I'd love to be able to experience the sublime perfection that sushi can be. On the other hand, "workaday" sushi can be very satisfying. Even buffet sushi can be quite satisfactory. With that in mind, most of the sushi chefs in my experience seem to be Mexican.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: wayne keyser

                                  Hamburger is basically an American dish and may have originated in America, so the chef, in your analogy, should be an American. Yet a satisfying delicious hamburger requires far less skill than satisfying delicious sushi. My wife, born overseas, makes great hamburgers. My son can too. None of us would feel comfortable making great, or even respectable sushi.

                                  1. re: wayne keyser

                                    One additional point, Wayne. You do need to spend a bit to be able to experience certain aspects of the food world. A "budget" diner can experience great things-but not certain types of "haute" cuisine, notably French, gourmet level Italian, Spanish, etc. or high level Japanese including Sushi, Kaiseki, or others. Even high level Chinese food, which can be had in New York, is extremely costly and starts to include some very precious ingredients, such as abalone, sharks fin, fresh lobster. Farbeit from me to say that you are not experiencing great dining, though. It's just that you may be missing something. Are you missing much? I don't know. While I am very happy having had great dining experiences in my lifetime, "budget" sushi, for example, has great merits: it benefits from having a good and reasonably fresh piece of fish on fair quality rice with the delightful puncutation of the sweet and saltiness of soy sauce and a smattering of wasabi, albeit the synthetic kind made mostly of horseradish. That's not too shabby of an experience. It's much much better than much that "budget" dining has to offer.

                                    On the other hand, when you can experience the perfect temperature and texture and taste of a great piece of sushi accompanied by the exact correct balance of saltiness and sweetness from some sort of soy sauce that tastes so much better than the commercial stuff, along with real wasabi freshly ground-or better yet, having the chef guide you so you know which sushi to dip or not to dip. And that the rice has an amazing texture and sense of consistency. It's pretty amazing stuff and very very satisfying. I usually come away feeling pretty great from that. I find it amazing that a meal actually can make you feel so good.

                                    If you are inclinded, save up some dough and give it a try. Go to Kuruma Sushi or any of the other great places in New York. Sit at the sushi counter, not at a table. Let the chef direct the meal. Go in and try only PART of a meal, so you don't have to break the bank. If you do, please let us all know if it was worth it, would you? Make sure the chef is Japanese, by the way-even if it's theoretically possible for there to be a great non-Japanese sushi chef. Why not go with the odds?

                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                      In Japan, truly great sushi can be experienced for a very premium price.

                                      But the populace as a whole is not afraid to whip up a bowl of chirashi or any of several other forms for daily meals, sometimes with the help of easily-available plastic sushi molds (look on eBay for "sushi maker").

                                      I know this isn't exactly an answer to the original post, but for my taste and budget, "everyday sushi" and even "homemade sushi" are more in line with my budget and my ability to appreciate superior sushi (I'm old and jaded and everyone says my taste buds were burnt out long ago).

                                  2. There's a Japanese TV drama called Shota No Sushi from the mid 1990s (that was a TV port of a manga by the same name), where the lead character's master told him that the essence to greatness in sushi boils down to kokoro, not technique. Loosely, this means "heart", but for those more in tune to Chinese and Japanese culture, it means a lot more....where it includes things like attention to detail, going the extra step and taking all steps possible ultimately for the consideration of taste, quality, texture, and delighting the customer in the end. The Chinese equivalent to this would be 用心程度, or the degree of which you put in your best effort and consideration (of the customer/person tasting your food) to maximize the end result and striving to do better and maintain quality. To some it's not about the end result, but the path to it. Ono Jiro is in a way a very extreme example....but this approach to work ethic or way of thinking is not really new to many older generation Japanese (or Chinese and Taiwanese).

                                    Anthony Bourdain in his worship of Ono Jiro in No Reservations:Tokyo, said the difference between really really good sushi and run of the mill is ingredient, technique, and timing. But, that's all really a subset of the approach to work ethic and kokoro. Someone can be trained in Japan, but without the core ethic, one can still source top ingredients and learn technique, but it doesn't mean they will churn out a product with love, passion, and care. Kind of like a Chinese noodle chef doing fresh hand pulled noodles....he might stretch it out and make thwacking sounds to impress onlookers, but the noodle might come out with the wrong texture and taste. Same principle if someone tosses pizza dough, making one think it's going to be an excellent Neapolitan, but it ends up being....Safeway or frozen fare quality.

                                    So if you have the right approach and embody that part of the culture, with training and execution in the right direction, you don't have to be Japanese to succeed. But it just so happens that the best are. And it just so happens that some Japanese chefs have found the perfect marriage of incorporating kaiseki elements into French, earning them well deserved Michelin stars.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: K K

                                      Kokuro is such an important issue in food. That quality of cooking with "heart" or xin in Chinese, is also completely possible in the Western traditions of food. Once I was discussing the best restaurants in Europe with a food expert. We both had the same favorite restaurant; a restaurant in Italy called Aimo e Nadia. The key; they cooked with love. I think this considering kokuro adds a very wonderful dimension to food that can elevate our life experience.

                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                        Sure, and that's why people like Bourdain try to squeeze in a visit to someone's home in foreign countries to get a taste of home cooked love. In some ways one tastes not just the love, but the good intentions (reflected in their cooking and the way they communicate with you to really make you feel at home), the local vibes and flavors. There's a term for this in Japanese and Chinese as well which is a basic interpretation of this feeling, that's also reflected in Japanese approach to hospitality (omotenashi, which is a separate topic altogether).

                                        1. re: K K

                                          I wonder if people think that the "feel" and "heart" of food makes a big difference? Or is it the quality of ingredients alone? What about the attention to detail and precision? For me the precise elegance of the food matters greatly. The visual aesthetic and balance is extremely important. So for example, in my view, a three course meal at Guy Savoy in Paris has much more balance than a 20 course meal at, say, French Laundry. Both are exquisitely prepared with amazing skill, elegance, visual beauty, but I always feel a food hangover at French Laundry. Guy Savoy does offer their version of the multi course prix fixe as well (at least in Las Vegas), but the old fashioned French style three course meal is really a delight. There is more sense of balance, whereas the multi course meal has the feeling of eating a pyrotechnic display.

                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                            Maybe Eto and Silverjay can explain this better from a Japanese perspective, but there's a term in Chinese called 人情味 (ren qing wei in Mandarin, or yun tsing mei in Cantonese) which in Japanese I believe is called にんじょうみ (ninjoumi) in trying to find something similar. This is probably getting too philosophical, but worth mentioning anyway.

                                            This is in essence a part of the culture where one can "taste" the personal touches imparted from someone, whether it be a process, the best of intentions, sincerity, which then gets reflected in the approach to ingredients, execution, precision, and the service, in order to delight the customer having the food and bringing that experience to another level. It is somewhat analogous to being treated like family, that you feel the warmth and love of the chef's personal touches (or the restaurant's), but more importantly, this entire act (or series of acts) moves you in such a way that it really touches your heart.

                                            How one is moved by such actions, of course varies. It could mean a chef secretly reading your mind and delighting you with a surprise that you haven't had in ages, or cooking you something that reminds you of home or your childhood, suggest that you try a seasonal local item as you are traveling from afar and never had it before, that while is considered peasant food, but yet prepares in such a way that it is uber delicious, or just going all out above and beyond.

                                            The term 人情味 gets thrown around a lot in Hong Kong food and drink media, even down to the dai pai dongs and blue collar street food level. To those people, the food tastes better when there's 人情味, usually when the owners of small food businesses drum up chit chat with regular customers...and it turns into an episode of Cheers, casual neighborhood vibe where people come together in a community, almost like family. Now in terms of western culture, European cuisine, I have no idea how this translates, but surely there are bonds formed of all sorts between diners and local restaurants/chefs, similarly to how one would see for example Bourdain's episode of No Reservation Naples, in Cetera, where chefs feel important to know the people who supply ingredients (fish, meat, cheese, wine), thus closing the relationships gaps.

                                            1. re: K K

                                              I've never heard the term ninjoumi before. To be perfectly honest, I'm not really all that concerned with the esoteric mystical essence of it all. I more enjoy being impressed with craft. And anyway, a lot of dining in Japan is done in restaurants with open kitchens and often intimate surroundings or at a counter in front of the chef(s). So the personal touches and spot relationship you have or the relationship you may build over time, are sort of built into the dining experience. I rather like this as opposed to the chefs out back in a kitchen rather anonymously behind swinging doors. But it's not like I chit-chat with the chefs every time.

                                              It was interesting to read recently in, I think in New York magazine, that many high end restaurants in New York use shortcut code lingo between front of house and kitchen to let them know about whether a patron was a high roller or a regular or a super regular or a picky eater, etc. Totally understand the practicality of it and it is obviously in an effort to provide better service. But there's something oft-putting about being reduced to a code word.

                                    2. No they don't have to be. But the best sushi Ive had has been prepared by Japanese chefs.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: AdamD

                                        Thanks, that's my experience as well. So the range of posts: Some people have had acceptable sushi prepared by non-Japanese chefs, many have preferred Japanese chefs. Yuba has Chinese chefs that seem to do a great job, but the food perhaps diverges from Japanese culture in some ways, but has a wonderful quality nonetheless. Someone had Korean chef made sushi that was good. Someone felt that the chef should be at least trained well in Japan, regardless of whether they were Japanese or not. Others felt that there is something not so desirable about a certain kind of exclusivity or preciousness applied to sushi of a particular type. Some people felt that offerings at Safeway and other more affordable versions of sushi were quite sufficient. Others talked of an almost spiritual aspect of food preparation. Very nice dialogue. Thanks.

                                      2. You could get passable sushi made by a non Japanese chef, but in most cases I think it does make a considerable difference in taste and qualify, for many of the reasons stated earlier in this thread.

                                        I recently ate at one of the highly rated sushi places in Denver and all the chefs at the counter were non-Japanese. I would say 90% of the sushi being prepared were rolls, rolls with peppers, rolls with cooked/raw fish, rolls with mayo and teri sauce, even rolls with strawberrys. Not at all traditional, and frankly, how much training does it take to create some fusion type sushi roll out of the blue, just some imagination. It didn't appeal to me at all.

                                        That being said, some of the dishes from the kitchen had a very Japanese flavor and I was very impressed with the hot and cold dishes. However, the nigiri served was just ok, the raw fish wasn't the best quality and the rice left quite a bit to be desired, but I figured for a mountain state, this was probably the best one could expect. If it was LA or NYC, definitely not.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: curiousgeo

                                          There's an okay sushi place in Denver called Sushi Den, IF you get the Japanese owner as your chef-which due to it's popularity is not a certainty. The chef gets his fish regularly from his brother who has a fish market in Fukuoku Japan, if I understand correctly. If that's the place you went to, then you got the wrong chefs. The sushi I had there last time I was in Denver was quite good; clean, fresh, well prepared-the toro was disapointing however, naturally. It's hard to get good toro.

                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                            Sushi Den was our other option that evening. Where we did eat and for the price we paid, the food was alright, about what I expected for Denver quality wise. I definitely wasn't anticipating anything close to what we've had in LA or NY, so it wasn't a great disappointment. We'll give Sushi Den a try on our next visit, it sounds promising.

                                            1. re: curiousgeo

                                              It is, but DO arrange to sit with the chef/owner-it may requiring going early-say 5:00 or 5:30.

                                        2. It defies basic common sense to say that a skill such as preparation of one sort of food or another can ONLY be performed at the highest level by people from a specific country or ethnic/cultural background. With the right training and some talent, any skill can be learned. Despite a whole lot of often-touted fluff and silliness to the contrary, there's no mysticism in food prep.

                                          Sushi prep is analogous to American football. Do you absolutely have to be American to be a great football player? Of course not. But the training infrastructure and cultural importance of football are both much greater in America than anywhere else, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the best football players are nearly always American.

                                          Then there is also the psychological element of eating sushi:

                                          Does the simple matter of truly believing that the sushi in front of you was prepared by a Japanese master who trained for decades actually help you as an eater enjoy the sushi more? I'd say probably it does in many cases.

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            Perhaps you can share some names of great sushi places that proves your point here for all of us "silly" folk who think that there is a higher or even mystical aesthetic potential around food.

                                            1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                              How would naming great sushi places prove my point? My point is that there's nothing about being born on one patch of soil that forever dooms you to be unfit to mix rice and fish in a pleasing and skillful manner. At the same time, I freely admit that Japanese sushi chefs have some real and major advantages when it comes to learning the skill at a high level, and I admit that most of the best sushi chefs will be Japanese because of those advantages.

                                              Buy into the mysticism of food prep if you like. Understand that others find it silly. I'm sorry if it offends you that I find it silly, and you're welcome to try to convince me of its merits (though in honesty you'll have an uphill battle at best). As a decent cook myself, I've found no use for and no truth in that kind of philosophy of cooking. Such is life.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                If you can name an example of a great western chefs who can cook sushi, that would be convincing as to your point that "anyone can learn a skill". Japanese cooking has various components that are rather difficult to learn; a visual aesthetic based on actual celebration of imperfection and impermanence; a sense of attentiveness that is free from thinking and hence is graceful and precise; a sense of balance; and other components that are considered a elements of Japanese culture. These are not "skills" but are fundamental attitudes. Many of these attitudes are embedded in mystical traditions of Japan, namely Shinto and Zen. Fundamental attitudes cannot be learned in school easily.

                                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                  It seems to me that you're kind of conflating two points. One - the less pertinent one - is whether a foreigner can ever develop a true and deep understanding of another culture without being part of that culture. To that I'd say yes, but it's quite difficult. And some cultures may be more difficult than others. I may get into trouble for saying this, but while Japanese culture is typically described as very polite and friendly, it is also often described as more insular than some cultures. But, I still think that with enough effort (and that effort is indeed considerable), a deep understanding can be reached.

                                                  The other, more relevant point is about whether a deep and thorough understanding of a culture is necessary to excel at cooking a cuisine of that culture. To that, I'd say... not quite. To excel at cooking a cuisine, a deep and thorough understanding of that cuisine is necessary, which does entail an understanding of its cultural importance and the values the cuisine is based off of. But that's still not quite the same thing. There's a lot that goes into making great sushi, but all that's still comparably finite. There's a lot about Japan you don't need to know to make great nagiri, just as there's a lot about Spain you don't need to know to make a killer paella.

                                                  I'm hesitant to name non-Japanese chefs making good sushi for two reasons. For one, I don't think my argument really hinges on the strength of any individual examples - that is, I think non-natives can learn the craft whether or not any actually have, and this is self-evident from nothing more than an understanding of the process of cooking (albeit at a very high level). For another, I'm concerned that anyone I name will just be held up to ridicule to support the conclusion you've already made. And I'm not really super into that.

                                                  That said, and going from nothing more than reputation (I have not had the honor of dining at his restaurant), I'll toss Tyson Cole's name out there. Yes, he does include some fusion in his menu, as well as quite a few options beyond sushi. But by nearly all accounts, he also does traditional sushi very well.

                                                  I bring him up as much to segue into another point as to actually toss out a name. I suspect that if you ate at Uchi (cole's restaurant), you probably wouldn't get the same feel as you do from a traditional sushi restaurant with a Japanese chef. And that might not be because Cole and his staff are unable to skillfully recreate that feel and that food. Instead, it might be because people (Americans anyway) expect traditional sushi from Japanese chefs but are skeptical of traditional sushi from Westerners. A skilled Westerner making sushi, or almost any Eastern cuisine, really, is expected to Westernize his menu. The skepticism of Western sushi chefs evident in this thread can form a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, where the best way for a black, white, or Latino chef well trained in classical sushi technique to build a successful restaurant is take their considerable skills and direct them towards a non-traditional approach to the cuisine they've studied and love.

                                                  I'll add that high among my personal favorite local sushi joints is a small, cheap, fusion spot run by Koreans. The rice is blood-warm and just a bit over-vinegared by Japanese standards; Americanized sauces are used at times; the nori is not top quality; the pieces (most of em rolls) are just a bit bigger than the norm. And the end result is delicious. But here's the thing - I live inland, and these guys just don't have ready access to the highest quality of fish and other supplies, much less the ability to sell such expensive ingredients to the locals at a profit. And given those constraints, their sushi demonstrates a high degree of skill - an understanding of how to pick the best from what good but not mind-blowing ingredients are available and make them well balanced and as satisfying as they can be. They don't make top-quality traditional Japanese sushi. But they know how to work with fish and rice.

                                                  The point - not every sushi chef is trying and failing to make great traditional sushi due to lack of training or understanding. Some are making the best of their area's limitations, customer base, and supply chain and very skillfully making a product that's satisfying in its own right within these limitations.

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    Terrific post! I enjoyed reading it, agree with a lot of what you have to say, and understand a perspective I hadn't necessarily thought about before.

                                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                                      Yeah, Silverjay, but what if one is dead-set on ordering Monster Truck Rolls made with seven kinds of raw fish rendered unidentifiable by the use of excessive amounts of Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Sri-hot-cha-cha Sauce, which are then battered and deepfried to a hearty crunch? In that case, I'd say it would help if the chefs are NOT Japanese.
                                                      <<end of nightmare>>

                                                      Just kidding. Looking forward to your winter visit to Tokyo.

                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                        LOL. Never gets old. Yup! See you in a few. Prepare thy masu and tokkuri.

                                                      2. re: Silverjay

                                                        Thanks silverjay. I have enjoyed many of your posts on sushi and learned much from them.

                                                      3. re: cowboyardee

                                                        Very good points. The challenge may be that culture is not a set of facts and figures alone. It is also the subliminal attitudes and views of a society that are difficult to articulate. They show up in the food.

                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                          "The challenge may be that culture is not a set of facts and figures alone. It is also the subliminal attitudes and views of a society that are difficult to articulate."
                                                          ________
                                                          I don't disagree. But I consider that part of the difficulty of understanding another culture. If all you had to do to deeply understand another culture was read a lot, it wouldn't be that hard. Still, I don't think these underlying and difficult-to-articulate and generally unspoken attitudes and values are completely untranslatable to someone from outside said culture. They're just difficult to pick up on and understand. But difficult isn't impossible.

                                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                                  I'm with you on the football analogy. Not so sure about the rest of your post, tho.

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    I think that football is quite apt. There are so many quarterbacks who receive the tremendous training that the American football system affords. Yet only a select few can actually learn the skill of an NFL quarterback. Hence, your statement that ANY SKILL CAN BE learned is defied by your own analogy. Not any skill can be learned such as the skill of an NFL quarterback. A certain talent or inclination must exist at some sort of extreme level. In the case of sushi, that inclination may very well be cultural. In the Japanese culture is a deep rooted sense of "mysticism" related to the shinto and Zen Buddhist traditions and includes a cultural attentiveness to elegance, mindfulness, and an array of spiritual compenents. I and others don't consider this silly.

                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                      "Hence, your statement that ANY SKILL CAN BE learned is defied by your own analogy."
                                                      ________
                                                      Only if you ignore the first half of the sentence you quoted. That 'talent' bit. Do you think only Americans might have some inborn talent for football? That even if other countries adopted football as their most popular sport and developed their native talent and pushed their best natural athletes toward football, still only Americans would be the best players in the world?

                                                    2. re: cowboyardee

                                                      I tend to agree with you as well. There is no mysticism or genetic determinism involved here. What is involved is having access to the culinary resources and being enveloped in a centuries-old culinary culture that reveres just about anything from the seas. Being able to understand that culture (i.e., the rules and resources around the traditional foodways, along with the language and social mores) gives the natives of that culture a distinct advantage. Unfortunately, as Silverjay stated earlier upthread, access for foreigners to partake in such high-level training is likely closed off by its gatekeepers. And it's most likely that those gatekeepers who attempt to maintain the sanctity of their craft/trade within a brotherhood of like-minded folks, tend to make their justifications in the form of genetic or "essentialist" claims: women's hands are too warm; non-Japanese cannot understand Japan's mystical traditions, etc.

                                                      I don't think the football analogy is so apt. Sumo is probably a better analogy. Decades ago, I'm sure sumo represented a "pure", unique tradition, seeped within a deeply embedded Japanese culture that wouldn't be penetrated by non-Japanese. Fast forward to today where there are top level sumo wrestlers from eastern Europe and Mongolia. This development may have come at the cost of alienating the hardcore traditionalists, but for these athlete's, they have demonstrated a deep reverence toward the sport of sumo and its cultural roots and have been able to be accepted in the sumo world because of that. The sushi world may not be that far behind.

                                                      I'll also add that soccer is probably a better analogy. For a country like the USA which excels in worldwide sports generally, why hasn't it produce more than a small handful of world-class players? More than its middling popularity, it probably has to do with the resources available to developing homegrown soccer players. Just like in the sushi world, you can pay your local talent the league minimum and get "good enough" or you can pay to bring in the real talent from abroad to really fill those seats.

                                                      Finally, I'll add this from an old post. Making sushi isn't just cutting up fish and making rice and putting the two together. There's an entire world of fish/seafood varieties that a sushi chef needs to or should be knowledgeable about. It must take years just to become familiar with a large percentage of them.
                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/300330

                                                    3. There are itamae and then there are rollers. The vast majority of 'sushi chefs' are nothing more than rollers. It doesn't take a lot of skill to learn to make Monster Truck Rolls. OTOH, it takes a lot of time and, I don't know, passion, maybe, to learn all things fish. Japanese tend to have a cultural head start. It's not an insurmountable head start, certainly, but I've never had a decent conversation about the quality of the fish in the case with a non-Japanese sushi chef.

                                                      1. In Israel they have started or are starting a sushi training course for young people who have recently finished army service. The idea is that sushi is very popular in Israel, the country doesn't like giving work visas, so why not train more Israelis?

                                                        I have no clue how long this course will be or who's teaching the classes, but I think as sushi becomes more generically popular there's a growing market for mediocre sushi. Every now and then people are happy to spend more on high qaulity/taught in Japan sushi - but more so want 'decent mediocre' sushi that's not so expensive.

                                                        1. just food for thought, and this is directed at no one in particular. but if i were to say something like "only white guys can do such and such." i would be in alot of trouble for saying that. certainly, growing up in a particular culture and eating the food would give you an advantage in preparing authentic/traditional versions. but truthfully, cooking is pretty easy once you get the hang of it, and i beleive pretty much anyone can learn pretty much anything.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: charles_sills

                                                            The discussion is clearly focused on Japanese from a cultural perspective, not a racial issue of Asian vs. Caucasian. And if cooking were so easy to do well, we wouldn't need a forum like this to discuss how to separate good from average and bad restaurants.

                                                            1. re: charles_sills

                                                              The general consensus is that you don't have to be Japanese to makes sushi. You need proper training and incidentally the chefs that are most likely to have the proper training are Japanese. As I observed before, I don't think the majority of non-Japanese sushi preparers (won't use the term chef) have been trained by anyone who knew how to make sushi. Imagine you knew nothing about Italian food. You read about it and pick up Italian cookbooks. You begin to cook what you think is Italian food. Will it be true? Maybe tasty, but more likely a facsimile of italian cooking because you will not have had the benefit of comparing to the original. Then open a restaurant and serve people who are just as unfamiliar with Italian food as you. Olive Garden. it packs people in. I'm always flabbergasted to see how many people pack into OGs in NYC. Compare the food to something like Babbo where the chef was trained in Italy. American born but italian trained. Not even remotely the same. Doesn't mean that OG isn't a booming business and probably makes more money that Batali, but it doesn't make food that is really Italian. But for the masses who are happy with it, it's fine. But every now and then someone who has only experienced OG eats at a place like Babbo and the scales fall from their eyes. Now s/he knows the difference. I'm sure you are a very good cook. But does that mean you can pick up any cuisine in an afternoon and be starting that evening serving paying customers? I certainly can't. The problem with your basic sushi place in America is that is what they do. On the job training. I recall a wall street journal article about how many non-Japanese sushi preparers are trained (or not). If you're happy in the OG world of sushi, stay there. If you ever discover the difference, it becomes much more expensive to eat.

                                                              1. re: Bkeats

                                                                Very good points in your post. A lot of people think that they can learn Italian, Japanese or any other cuisine without appropriate training. As you say, there is lots of "OG" sushi. But there's also some very skillful chefs who are making sushi without the deep levels of training. So for example, in MOntreal, there's a Korean sushi chef who has some very good skills as a chef. The food doesn't have the refinement of a great sushi chef, but it is good food. A little better than OG, and not very traditional.

                                                            2. The best I ever had was made by a black sushi chef......in Alabama.

                                                              1. In the very basic to your answer is a "No"

                                                                You do NOT have to be Japanese to make good sushi of course. There isn't a genetic component to it. That we know for sure. However, by in large, the good sushi chefs are mostly Japanese. So to further carry cowboyardee's analogy. You don't have to an American to be a good American football player, but vast majority of the good football players are indeed Americans.

                                                                Like you said, sushi training in Japan typically take about 10 years or more. That is very standard. Jiro, of course, is the top of the top and demands ever more. In US, most sushi chefs are trained in 1-2 years and sometime much shorter.

                                                                http://www.sushi-academy.com/

                                                                http://www.sushischool.net/program.ph...

                                                                Most importantly the level/intensity of the training is different. As you can tell in the firm (Jiro) that a very important part of sushi is in fact the procurement of the seafoods themselves. Knowing what fish to get and not fish not to get early in the morning....etc. The rice is a huge part of the sushi preparation, which I feel many sushi joints in the US do not care.

                                                                The fortunate and unfortunate of sushi is that it gains enormous popularity in the USA. This popularity in turn created an explosion of sushi restaurants in the US, which also allowed many people opening sushi restaurants without proper training.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                  One of the testimonials for the sushi course came from a Japanese sushi chef (I don't know if he was an American born Japanese). The owner of the school is Japanese and owns a sushi restaurant. He was the only one on the testimonial charts to be hired by the schools owner in his suchi restaurant. IN other words, a sushi school devoted to training westerners the skills of sushi making seemed to have preferred to hire Japanese students. Probably not genetic based, but it's certainly interesting.

                                                                2. I want to say 'No, they don't have to be'.

                                                                  In theory I think if a person has the critical palate, is forever patient, set high standards, recieved proper training and is creative by nature then he/she can be a very good sushi maker.

                                                                  In reality, such a person is hard to find. Years of sush-eating in this country helps to solidify my now very biased view: I'd rather eat at a Japanese-owned, Japanese-run and Japanese-served place for sushi. When I cannot find such a place, I will eat Korean-made sushi instead. Next will be Chinese and southeastern-asian, in that order. By the way, I follow the same order of preference when I shop for groceries. What does that tell? But I think it's less a racial view than testimonial to the differences among the cultures - the more careful and exact people in a culture do things, the better chances what they do end up having good quality, especially when it comes to making sushi.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: borntolovefood

                                                                    <By the way, I follow the same order of preference when I shop for groceries.>

                                                                    That is strange. I reverse that order for grocery shopping.

                                                                    <But I think it's less a racial view than testimonial to the differences among the cultures >

                                                                    It is amazing that so many people is saying this now, but just two months ago, I was told that this is stereotyping:

                                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8586...

                                                                    1. re: borntolovefood

                                                                      I don't think anyone on this thread is considering this a racial or genetic issue. It's clearly cultural.

                                                                    2. Only if you think ramen must be prepared by japanese chefs.
                                                                      (in short? no. sushi isn't even an old dish. kinda like waffles. industrial era).

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                        Maybe this applies to Ramen chefs as well. A post in "serious eats" seemed to have done a thorough comparison of ramen shops in New York. The top 4 were Japanese owned. Momofuku, came in at a respectable 5th and was Korean owned. SO perhaps there is a cultural advantage for Ramen makers. But ramen originally comes from China and has become it's own Japanese stylised version, that is now coming to the states.

                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                          Well, sushi was also from China to Japan. However, the sushi back then is very than the sushi of today.

                                                                      2. For the most part, it's been my experience that in order to experience that subtle, elegant, precise, and masterfully created Japanese style sushi, you do have to go to a Japanese sushi chef.

                                                                        This isn't to say that there aren't any non-Japanese sushi chefs who were trained extensively in that style and are capable of producing it consistently. But sushi has become big business, and everyone and their mother have discovered that there's good money to be made in it, and here in Southern California, you are probably 4 or 5 times more likely to be served sushi made by a non-Japanese sushi chef than Japanese. Some of them have decent skills and good palates, but I find that their sushi often reflects a palate informed by some other cuisine than Japanese, and the texture and seasoning of the rice as well as the treatment of the fish is more heavy handed than it would be were it prepared by a skilled Japanese sushi chef.

                                                                        On the other hand, if you're looking for rock n' roll sushi, i.e., lots of rolls with crazy sauces, big flavors, and big portions, which some might say is not sushi at all, then a Japanese-run place, statistically speaking, is probably not where you want to go.

                                                                        So in short, FLG, I'm with you. :)

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                          I quite agree, though of course theoretically it doesn't have to be so. SUre, you could have a great non-Japanese sushi chef. Certainly, there might be a kind of "new" non-Japanese sushi cuisine that arises and has it's own unique and wonderful character. But for us "traditionalists" who can actually feel-not just taste-the difference, I think the old style will be predominanantly serviced by Japanese chefs because of the inherent cultural aspect of food. The non-technical aspects of Japanese culture, including an aesthetic based on Zen and Shinto and native values will be hard to teach, I am guessing. People who actually study Japanese culture are well aware of these connections.

                                                                          I think that to become sufficiently steeped in Japanese culture is extremely challenging, and insofar as the food is so reflective of very high and unusual and unique Japanese values, it is unlikely that there will be too many great sushi chefs in the old style.

                                                                        2. This is something that occurred to me walking home from the store today. I hope people take this as it's intended - which is just a thought/wondering - and not as any kind of statement of fact, belief or opinion.

                                                                          It occurred to me that perhaps the difference is not innate in Japanese culture vs other cultures, but rather is a matter of persistent values.

                                                                          I agree with the posts stating that Japanese society places a high value on precision, attention to detail, obsessive perfectionism, ritual, the list goes on. It's pretty "conventional" in terms of how people view Japan and the Japanese. It occurred to me that such beliefs certainly aren't unique to the Land of the Rising Sun, BUT that Japan may indeed be unique in how it has continued to value such things in modern times. In the West, it was (not too very long ago) the norm to go through a ritualized, punishingly difficult apprenticeship to become a baker, or a patissier, or a butcher....a carpenter, a mason, a painter, a fisherman, the list goes on and on. You trained for years, often in unforgiving circumstances, in your craft. You learned it from the most basic of basics on up, you were drilled endlessly. You lived, slept, ate, breathed and wholly existed in the service of your art. Today, such artisanship is experiencing a revival in the West; cheeses, beers, ice creams, meats, pastas (and also in non-food areas, like woodworking, furniture-making, stonework, etc) - so we do, even today, acknowledge to superior quality that specialization and grueling, laser-focused training can provide.

                                                                          This is the relationship Japanese-trained sushi chefs have with sushi. Perhaps then the difference lies not necessarily in Japanese culture, per se, but rather in that artisanship never had its social valuation eroded the same way in Japan as it did in (I'll use my own country as an example) America.

                                                                          That said, I appreciate a Rainbow Roll or other non-traditional sushi as much as the next person; I just appreciate it for what it is, which is a tasty product of cultural fusion that emerged from the sushi tradition. I don't think one (non-traditional vs traditional) sushi devalues the other, and I think both come in a variety of degrees of excellence (or not-excellence, as the case may be). But, I do still think that for traditional sushi (and perhaps even non-traditional, in that learning the foundation may improve the ability of a chef to build and innovate upon it), Japanese TRAINING remains the best in the world.

                                                                          Maybe?

                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                          1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                            Very enjoyable post chartreauxx. Good insights.

                                                                            1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                              Japanese are all about cultural fusion. You perhaps do them a disservice by NOT making it fusion yourself, American style.

                                                                              What other embassy serves corn=on-the-cob, and considers it "japanese food" because japanense people like it?

                                                                              1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                i didn't say japanese don't DO fusion, simply that tradition and traditional methodology are revered and practiced. you can as easily find california rolls and spam nigiri in japan as you can find top-flight traditional sushi. i sincerely doubt, though, that you'd find a top-flight traditional sushiya serving said california roll. it's not that innovation isn't appreciated; simply that it, i think, is seen as a different category of thing from the traditional.

                                                                                1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                  This is Japan. The traditional is modern. if there isn't a tradition, they simply invent one!

                                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                    Actually, ALL traditions are invented. Not just in Japan.

                                                                                    1. re: E Eto

                                                                                      That's a very good point. At what point is it a "tradition" and not simply another "trend" or just a "concept"?

                                                                            2. I just posted a discussion about Japanese Food and Meditation. I know it's a bit boring for most of you, but it was born of our discussions here. If you are not too tired- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/867060

                                                                              1. There is a place in Phoenix around 51st avenue and Union Hills called "M". One of the sushi chefs there is caucasian. Chris was required to train for several years under the head chef and had to earn his spot behind the bar. His creations blew me away. I am a traditionalist, but this has me doubting myself.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: tseptember

                                                                                  What did you like about it? Could you describe some of the creations?

                                                                                2. Yes they have to be Japanese there's no other way.

                                                                                  40 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: CountChocula

                                                                                    Some people might be offended by what they perceive as racism. I have never eperienced a great sushi chef who wan't Japanese to date, so I suspect you are right.

                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                      A thought experiment for you:

                                                                                      Does sushi making rely more on cultural insight than making other genres of food to the highest standards? That is, is it more important that a great sushi chef be of Japanese culture than that one who wants to make great barbecue be of Southern US culture, or an aspiring cook of Dim Sum be of Chinese culture?

                                                                                      And if you believe that sushi has a particular reliance on the cultural values and cultural origin of the cook (I suspect you do, but I don't want to put words in your mouth), what is it about sushi specifically that makes it more reliant on those factors than other cuisines? Different aesthetic expectations rule over sushi than barbecue or dim sum, but are other cuisines truly less bound by their own set of aesthetics or cultural philosophies?

                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                        Most people have forgotten what desserts were for (keeping you warm overnight). they still make good ones.
                                                                                        A proper train-bento isn't the same without being consumed on/nearby a train...
                                                                                        But the RACE of the persn making it?ayiyi. never.

                                                                                        My anime reminds me that Pandas make poor sushi chefs (too clumsy paws). other than that...

                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                          <desserts were for (keeping you warm overnight)>

                                                                                          I didn't know that.

                                                                                          <My anime reminds me that Pandas make poor sushi chefs>

                                                                                          What anime shows that?

                                                                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                              Hmm, never heard of it, but I did a quick search, and it looks like an anime for girls.

                                                                                              Anyway, for a moment, I thought you were going to say Ranma 1/2, but I did not remember the Panda (Genma) making sushi:

                                                                                              http://ranma.wikia.com/wiki/Genma_Sao...

                                                                                        2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                          I would encourage people to see Tempopo (a great movie) and Ramen Girl (not so hot, but interesting nonetheless). In the latter, there is a scene where the western girl, played by Brittany Murphy is meeting with her teacher's mom and giving her a lesson about how to make good food. She said something like "put your tears into each bit of food". The son, in fact-the teacher of the young woman-took the lesson as one to him. There's a very different sensibility that in part is about a certain attentive-or mindful-approach to preparing and eating food that is much more a part of Japanese culture than other cultures. So it's not an aesthetic alone, but there's a feeling imparted by a culture that values attentiveness, feeling, balance. The precision of the knife cutting, the elegance and beauty of the presentation all go into the utlimate feeling that the food imparts.

                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                            < There's a very different sensibility that in part is about a certain attentive-or mindful-approach to preparing and eating food that is much more a part of Japanese culture than other cultures>

                                                                                            I don't know if I agree to that. That is to say "Food is more important to Japanese than others"

                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                              That is not saying that "food is more important to Japanese than others". It is saying that attentiveness-paying attention to one's activity with a mindful non-distractedness-is a very important part of Japanese culture. In the west, it is as much a key cultural value or training that is central to the culture.

                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                Meant to say -'not as much a cultural value as it is for the Japanese". Sorry for my sloppiness.

                                                                                        3. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                          It is racism, not just perceived. You are judging someone's predilection for or ability at something by their racial heritage. That's the very definition if racism.

                                                                                          If someone posted a thread asking if only white people could make a.good lobster roll, and then a bunch of people chimed in to say, "well, every good one I've had was made by a white person, so I guess so..." it probably wouldn't be so well recieved...

                                                                                          1. re: sgordon

                                                                                            Exactly - I do believe that there may be a correlation to the Japanese style of training (that may be difficult to access outside of Japan) and good sushi, but that's completely different. What that ultimately means is that people born in Japan or heavily Japanese communities will have greater opportunity and access to train in the Japanese system.

                                                                                            Also, while I have had good sushi made by people who are Japanese - I have had terrible sushi made by people who are Japanese. Doesn't mean any more or less than either having sushi from a chef who's having an off night, or a poorly trained chef.

                                                                                            1. re: cresyd

                                                                                              I think what you way is quite reasonable. In addition, I htink that Japanese will have a sense of the importance and value of this type of training that we in the west might not share. In the comedy Tempopo, it's-perhaps tongue in cheek-when the woman asks the truck driver to be her "ramen sensei"-teacher of ramen.

                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                While I think the ultimate answer to the question is "quality training that is more likely to be found in Japan/under a Japanese chef" - I think another part of the issue is "To get good sushi do the other clientele need to be Japanese? Does the owner of the restaurant need to be Japanese?"

                                                                                                Some of the worst sushi I've ever had has come from Japanese sushi chefs. Both places have owners/management that are not Japanese and serve a generic Western clientele. The chefs may have not been trained in Japan, they may have - and then ended up in establishments abroad that don't have the interest for high quality sushi or a client base that demands it.

                                                                                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                  as if ramen is a japanese food.
                                                                                                  *runs*

                                                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                    A good point indeed. Ramen origin is in China, just like Zen originated from China. If Japanese were able to learn Ramen and Zen from Chinese, then why can't non-Japanese learn from them?

                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                      They can if they can appreciate the culture in a deep way. Olive Garden customers might like garlic and tomatoes-but that doesn't make Olive Garden's food real Italian cuisine.

                                                                                                      My wife (Chinese) ate some ramen the other day prepared by a Chinese owned ramen restaurant (her cousin). She liked it but said-"doesn't taste Japanese-it tastes like Chinese soup". So to understand cooking that has a deep cultural rooting, you have to go beyond your own culture. Italian or Japanese.

                                                                                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                        <My wife (Chinese) ate some ramen the other day prepared by a Chinese owned ramen restaurant (her cousin). She liked it but said-"doesn't taste Japanese-it tastes like Chinese soup">

                                                                                                        Yes, there is difference between Chinese noodle and Japanese Ramen. Point being, that ramen was originated from China, just like Zen was originated from China. If Japanese can learn Ramen and Zen from the Chinese, then there is no reason why non-Japanese cannot learn.

                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                          He studied for 6 months at a Japanese ramen-ya. So ofcourse anyone can learn. But the feel and quality and authenticity and cultural context is another issue. Some people like Olive Garden's version of Italian food. Some don't.

                                                                                                    2. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                      Ramen is as Japanese at this point as shoyu. Both came from China, but have become part of the natural japnese culture.

                                                                                                2. re: sgordon

                                                                                                  "White people" IS a race. Japanese is not a race. However, if a particular dish were only prepared well by black chefs in one's experience, it would not be racist to say so. I doubt if only white people can make good lobster rolls, so I don't see the point of your post. However, many people I have known have had their best sushi experiences from Japanese chefs.

                                                                                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                    It is not racist to say "in my experiences, Dish X has only been good when prepared by chefs of Race Y."

                                                                                                    It IS racist to say "Only chefs of Race Y are capable of preparing Dish X well."

                                                                                                    There is a fundamental difference between those two sentiments.

                                                                                                    1. re: sgordon

                                                                                                      Spot on, sgordon.

                                                                                                      It is one thing to say "Asian students have high math scores" or "Black unemployment rate has been very high" These are accurate descriptions and are important for addressing social issues, such as single mom status is a larger social problem among blacks.

                                                                                                      It is an entirely different thing to change these facts into "High SAT scores can only be achieved by Asians" or "Poor people must be black" ...etc.

                                                                                                      Look, it is one thing to say that "The only good sushi meals I had were prepared by Japanese chefs" It is an entirely different thing to say "Good sushi can only be prepared by a Japanese"

                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                        Thanks, CK. Someone gets it.

                                                                                                        What fascinates me about this is all the people who insist that it takes a Japanese to "get" sushi - but I guess they personally don't have to be Japanese to truly "get" sushi when they eat it? One could argue that - by their argument - to understand it on a deeper level would require the same years of zen-like study, a lifetime of immersion in Japanese culture, under a Japanese master, etc...

                                                                                                        Which means that since probably 90% (100%?) of the posters in this thread aren't Japanese themselves, their opinions on what makes for good sushi are without any merit themselves.

                                                                                                        1. re: sgordon

                                                                                                          I think it takes a sensitivity to someone else's culture. For example, if you are trying to appreciate French food, you explore the restaurants that Parisians think is good French food, rather than an Americanized French restaurant. Then you begin to appreciate the Parisian aesthetic instead of applying your own aesthetic. You educate your palate in a broader way. That might cause you to come to appreciate a restaurant like Guy Savoy as more representative of French aesthetic than, for example, French Laundry. Most "eaters" think that if they like it, it must be good. It may be, but not necessarily as good Italian/Japanese/French cuisine. Likewise, if, as some of the responders here think, there isn't such a thing as a Japanese aesthetic-then they are probably not really that credible in opining about sushi. So probably some of the people don't "get" sushi who think that they do. They might "get" good quality fish, but to "get" any cuisine requires leaving your own prejudices behind and really trying to understand something beyond one's own limited experiences.

                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                            Do I think Japanese from Japan has an advantage in making sushi? Sure. They are born and raised in that culture, so they are one step ahead, but I also think it is true for so many other things as well. That does not mean a non-Japanese does not have the potential to learn to make sushi -- especially if he/she is willing to adapt the culture and skill.

                                                                                                            Let's use your earlier example. Zen was originated in China (no, not India). Yet, earlier Japanese tried to learn Zen from their Chinese counterpart. The most famous of all is Master Eisai (栄西) who went to China twice and studied for four years under his teacher 虚庵懐敞 at Tiantai to become a Zen master. Did Eisai need to be Chinese to become a Zen master? Apparently, he was considered a respectful Zen master not just by the Japanese, but by the Chinese.

                                                                                                            I don't know if sushi really takes a great deal of Zen. I doubt it. First of all, most sushi chefs are not Zen masters. Second, even if it does have tiny Zen influence, I am sure people can adopt the culture just like Eisai was able to understand Zen from his Chinese teacher. Unless, you think that making sushi requires more skill and dedication than becoming a Zen master like Eisai.

                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                              Cha'an was brought to China by the first patriarch who is considered the founder of Cha'an/Zen (same word different languages). He came from India, it is commonly believed.

                                                                                                              As for your other points, if someone like Eisai or Dogen Zenji, the two main people who brought Zen to Japan, studied sushi making with that level of alacrity, then I am sure they could make good sushi. But there is a cultural sense in Japan, where Zen is actually well integrated into the natural cultural experience that is somewhat unavoidable. I studied a Japanese marshal art which was sometimes referred to as "ritzu zaizen" or "standing zazen". The Japenese students actually got it very quickly and easily-a little better and quicker than us westerners. I think this traditional cultural connection with Zen makes that so.

                                                                                                              I think Eisai's training or Dogen Zenji's training was quite phenomenal and beyond sushi. That doesn't diminish in any way that making sushi can be a tremendous art beyond mere cookery.

                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                <Cha'an was brought to China by the first patriarch>

                                                                                                                No, this is incorrect. Two things to consider. First, Bodhidharma's record is shaky. Second, he did not BRING Ch'an/Zen to China. At best, he founded Zen in China. Zen took its form by combination of Mahayana and Taoism (and some other Chinese philosophies). There was never Zen in India. He could not bring what was not there.

                                                                                                                <The Japenese students actually got it very quickly and easily-a little better and quicker than us westerners>

                                                                                                                I wrote "Do I think Japanese from Japan has an advantage in making sushi? Sure. They are born and raised in that culture....."

                                                                                                                Having an advantage is not the same as having exclusive right. Just because Japanese have a starting advantage in making sushi, it does not mean non-Japanese cannot make sushi. This is true for any cuisines really. Do you not think this is the same for say making Chinese Dim Sum as cowboyardee has pointed out? I bet you that there are more non-Japanese who can make sushi than non-Chinese who can make Dim Sum.

                                                                                                                No one claims sushi is easy, and I think the problem of sushi in the West is that you can become a sushi chef in the West with a 1-6 month course of training, whereas in Japan, you don't become a sushi chef without a 10-year training (at least 5). That huge difference in demand and training makes a big impact.

                                                                                                                "12 WEEK INTENSIVE SUSHI CHEF COURSE 2012 SPRING SEMESTER was completed"

                                                                                                                http://www.sushi-academy.com/

                                                                                                                "Our Professional Course is high-leveled contents to become a sushi chef in 2 months."

                                                                                                                http://www.sushischool.net/program.ph...

                                                                                                                This difference between a traditionally 10-years trained Japanese sushi chef and a 2-3 months trained sushi "chef" from New York should be obvious.

                                                                                                                Let's reverse the question. Do you think a normal Japanese (born in Japan, raised in Japan) can learn to make good sushi with a 2-3 month training? If not, then we know where the true problem lies.

                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                  Zen did come from India. Zen is just a monikor for a Buddhist school. It is a common useage. Zen-a certain type of meditative practice, DID exists and came from India. In Japan, it is commonly referred to as Sotoshu or Rinzaishu. The term "Zen" comes from the term Dhyana which was an important Buddhist meditative practice in ancient India. Zen, and other Buddhist shools did become influenced and adopt certain Taoist practices, as you said. I am not sure what your argument is, but Bodhidharma, and Indian monk FOUNDED Zen as you said. That seems to suggest that Zen came from India. Zen is a form of Buddhism which clearly came from India. Mahayana is a form of Buddhism, and as you say, Zen is a form of Mahayana. Mahayana TOO originated in India.

                                                                                                                  While I disagree with what you said about Zen originating in China, I agree with your points about.
                                                                                                                  1. Training period on sushi-10 years vs. 6 months-very important.
                                                                                                                  2. Japanese don't have exclusive abitlity to become sushi chefs; anyone can become one.
                                                                                                                  3. Japanese have an advantage.
                                                                                                                  4. HOWEVER: It's not just training-but it's a cultural heritage that makes a big component of hte difference. That heritage can be learned, or at least appreciated. SO training CAN work, but not necessarily.

                                                                                                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                    <Zen did come from India>

                                                                                                                    No, Zen is not from India. Without the Taoism aspect, there is no Zen. Zen is not from India. What the Indian monks bought was Mahayana (or in Chinese: 大乘佛教 or in Japanese 大乗仏教). This in turn merged with local Chinese Taoism and created Zen.

                                                                                                                    <adopt certain Taoist practices>

                                                                                                                    It wasn't the practices/rounties which got absorbed. It was the philosophical aspects of Taoism.

                                                                                                                    < The term "Zen" comes from the term Dhyana>

                                                                                                                    That does not mean it is from India. Dhyana is simply a practice skill. It is not an entire philosophy. The Chinese named its new philosophy, Zen/Ch'an, based on an Indian word, but it does not change its origin. Sushi (寿司; 鮨) the word(s) are based on Chinese, but sushi, by its own right is no longer Chinese. Ginsu knives have a Japanese-like name too, but they are not made in Japan.

                                                                                                                    <Bodhidharma, and Indian monk FOUNDED Zen as you said>

                                                                                                                    He may have, but it is questionable. And even if he had, it was after he arrived to China and communicated and exchanged with local Taoists. So Zen was not created in India. It was founded in China.

                                                                                                                    "Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism and originated in China during the 6th century as Chán."

                                                                                                                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen

                                                                                                                    "Founded in China in the 6th century C.E. as the Ch'an school of Mahayana Buddhism"

                                                                                                                    http://www.patheos.com/Library/Zen.html

                                                                                                                    "In ancient India, "zazen" was just one of the techniques of Buddhist practice. It was in China in the 6th century that Zen Buddhism was born as a sect"

                                                                                                                    http://web-japan.org/museum/others/za...

                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                      You need to get your Buddhist education from something beyond the web. No serious scholar would say that Zen does not come from China, nor would they say that Zen does not come from India. It's like saying you don't come from your mom and dad.

                                                                                                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                        <You need to get your Buddhist education from something beyond the web>

                                                                                                                        I have read books about Zen history, but I cannot post the books, can I? Internet is just a easy way for you to see. Seriously, objectively speaking, what makes you think that you are correct? You happened to read some ancient India Zen texts which I am not aware of?

                                                                                                                        <nor would they say that Zen does not come from India.>

                                                                                                                        But it isn't. Here is why it is not. There is no Zen texts from India. Name one, if you think you can of a famous Zen book written in India. There is no Zen masters from India -- except for Bodhidharma, and he really came to China as a Mahayana practitioner. It is in China, where he (maybe) started to teach Zen. The problem is that he probably did not teach Zen, but Mahayana. Chinese have a habit to credit one's ancestors or teachers for things which did not happen. For example, Bodhidharma was said to be an martial art expert according to folklore, but no creditable history texts mentioned this. Bodhidharma was also said to cross the Yangzi River by standing and floating on a stem of reed.

                                                                                                                        http://image.digitalarchives.tw/Image...

                                                                                                                        He of course mediated for 9 years facing the wall without eating.

                                                                                                                        http://www.sanabo.com/words/archives/...

                                                                                                                        < It's like saying you don't come from your mom and dad.>

                                                                                                                        No, it isn't. It is more like saying that "Sushi is not from China" or that "Fortune cookies are not from China". Sushi the words are from China/Chinese. The current sushi have a very fine and weak link to the original Chinese origin, but they are so different and they taste different.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                          Buddhism in all it's forms takes on local permutations that give it new flavors. But the commonly held wisdom is that it is still Buddhism, which comes from India. Tibetan Buddhism looks very different from Indian Buddhism, though it is highly influenced by the native Bon traditionm, just as Cha'an was influenced by Taoism. But the key tenets of many of the forms of Buddhism are the same or similar and all have an important emphasis on practicing "Dhyana" whether you call it CHa'an, Zen, or Samten. There are other aspects in common as well. They are also marked by certain approaches to understanding impermanence and suffering. There will be Buddhist schools that develop in the U.S. They will still be born from Chinese, Japanese/Zen/Shingon or others, Tibetan traditions which were all arisen from Indian Buddhism. Zen did not spontaneously arise in China. It arose because Buddhism came to China, and then to Japan where it became known as Zen. The connection between sushi and china is much more distant than the connection between Zen and India. The taste of Zen is different than the taste of Indian Buddhism-you are correct. Indians eat curry, Japanese eat fish, rice and pickles. That isn't enough. It's not sushi.

                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                            <Buddhism, which comes from India>

                                                                                                                            Agree.

                                                                                                                            <Zen did not spontaneously arise in China>

                                                                                                                            No, it did not.

                                                                                                                            <It arose because Buddhism came to China>

                                                                                                                            90% agree.

                                                                                                                            But you do understand about fortune cookies, right? It is said (one version) that fortune cookies were first made here in the US by a Chinese immigrant. Yet, Chinese in China have never eaten these cookies until maybe ten years back. Even though Fortune cookies were made by a Chinese and were using Asian style flour...etc (like Japanese), its origin is considered to be USA.

                                                                                                                            Another example is California roll. In my definition, California roll's origin is US, not Japan -- even though you could argue that California roll would not have spontaneously raise in US -- which is true.

                                                                                                                            We probably have a different definition of "origin" and "originated"

                                                                                                          2. re: sgordon

                                                                                                            "Since 90% of the posters in this thread aren't Japanese themselves, their opinions on what makes for good sushi are without any merit themselves"

                                                                                                            Logic of everyday reasoning 101 ................. EXCELLENT !!!!

                                                                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                                                                              So you are saying that people have to be Japanese to either appreciate sushi or to have a valid opinion about sushi? I am pretty sure that I disagree with that, however, I do recognize that my own opinion is limited greatly by that my sushi experience is limited by the fact that I have only been eating sushi in Japan and North America for about 20 years, and have a long way to go to understand it well.

                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                I don't think a person has to be Japanese to make it, appreciate it or have a valid opinion about it, I just liked S. GORDON'S converse logic.

                                                                                                              2. re: Tom34

                                                                                                                Sure but perhaps what can be appreciated as great sushi requires some set of skills or even philosophy usually acquired by Japanese. Whatever the elite American taste is , acquired through repeated sushi eating, is likely to be based on some objective principles. Not just random assortment of flavors, otherwise the opinion about what constitutes great sushi would never be formed.

                                                                                                      2. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                        Unless he is Chuck Norris

                                                                                                        (sorry, have been watching a lot of Chuck Norris stuffs).

                                                                                                    2. I don't think so. Chuck Norris is an 8th degree black belt in Tong Soo Do and he is not Korean. Making great sushi involves having a source of #1 grade seafood and the knowledge of how to prep it. Does a Chef have to be French to excel at French cuisine? I think not.

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: Tom34

                                                                                                        It's more than just knowledge and a source. It's having a certain ability to move skillfully, gracefully, and undistractedly in the process of making the sushi and to have a sense of the beauty and aesthetic of the process. I suspect Chuck Norris underwent an immense amount of training to gain the "feel" and movement necessary to be skilled in Tong Soo Do as well. It probably took years.

                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                          you are right. it took him years. just like it takes years for anyone to master any cuisine, regardless of their culture.

                                                                                                          the worlds greatest sushi chefs didnt spend one weekend mastering the art of sushi.

                                                                                                      2. only african americans can truly make fried chicken.
                                                                                                        only white americans can truly make mac and cheese and truly appreciate boxed wine.
                                                                                                        only a european can make excellent beer.
                                                                                                        the only people who can cook mexican food are mexican.
                                                                                                        only a proffessional driver can safely drive.
                                                                                                        only a professional athlete can truly understand sport.

                                                                                                        everyone seems to be saying that lack of non japanese sushi makers is proof that you must be japanese to excel at making sushi. but im sorry, thats correlation not causation. you are turning this into voodoo instead of science. any talented chef could learn to make sushi as well as anyone else makes sushi. sure they would need to be trained. they would need alot of training. im not saying every master chef CAN make sushi, im saying any master chef COULD learn to make sushi.

                                                                                                        and further more, if you have to be so immersed in japanese culture to make quality sushi, then im guessing none of us non japanese could even appreciate sushi.

                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: charles_sills

                                                                                                          Sushi is an industrialized food, just like corn flakes and sandwiches.

                                                                                                          1. re: charles_sills

                                                                                                            A lot of people CAN read James Joyce's "Ulysses" and enjoy it without reading the volumes of source material and concordances. But if you make the extra effort, you can appreciate it on many different levels. It's the difference between some guy in a grocery store putting sliced fish on rice and another guy practicing the same thing for ten years.

                                                                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                              i agree with that. which is why i was trying to say that ANYONE that wants to dedicate themselves to mastering sushi, is able to, regardless of wether or not they are japanese.

                                                                                                              1. re: charles_sills

                                                                                                                Probably not anyone, but some can, most likely. Probably not every Japanese can either.

                                                                                                              2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                                Well said. I think that a greater level of appreciation can be obtained by really delving into the source material. In the case of sushi, some of the background material might include more than just studying books.

                                                                                                            2. I'm not sure why my post was deleted, but I mentioned that Zen has it's roots in India, then made it's way to Japan by way of China.

                                                                                                              I certainly see the relationship to the Japanese culture, but those type of Zen sensibilities can be found elsewhere.

                                                                                                              Similarly, I think the chances of getting a quality itamae are higher if they're of Japanese descent...but do they have to be? No.

                                                                                                              Re: women sushi chefs, there aren't many but consider Niki Nakayama at N/Naka in LA...very talented.

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                Rodzilla,
                                                                                                                Niki Nakayama is an American of Japanese descent. However, her Japanese cuisine has a great reputation for excellence.

                                                                                                                1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                  She looks like an amazing chef. There is a video of her preparing a kaiseki. She studied in Japan and a Ryokan for several years after training at a Japanese restaurant in L.A. I would love to hear her views on the advantages of being from the Japanese culture to become a great Japanese chef. Here is the video:
                                                                                                                  http://vimeo.com/45859524

                                                                                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                    Thank you, but I was mentioning her in response to someone bringing up the point on gender.

                                                                                                                2. I agree with your examples, but I take a very different interpretation. The enjoyment of sushi is not subject to binary categories of "authentic" and "inauthentic". I learned (and often continue to relearn) that, if you impose your expectations about one kind of food (high-end traditional sushi) onto another kind of food (cheap Americanized sushi), then that is how to have a disappointing meal.

                                                                                                                  Even American sushi has variance, between the East and West coasts, in part because the West coast doesn't value haute cuisine as highly. Let me point out that the first word of "Sukiyabashi Jiro" literally translates as "Bridge to the House of Refined Taste". So don't for an instant be deluded that this one film has not in some ways ended up distorting Japanese culture through its hyperspecialized subject, inasmuch as it has informed and educated the world about sushi. I speak out of the experience of my own "disappointing" dinners.

                                                                                                                  As for training, I will add that, observing the chefs at Sushi Yasuda, they really do stand and move differently; if you watch carefully, their stance and arm movements bear similarities to Japanese performance and martial arts. These are learned movements that help them prepare sushi quickly and precisely. I have never seen this in other sushi restaurants, including ones with Japanese chefs.

                                                                                                                  I could go on (relating to Japanese Michelin stars, Japanese' own interest in authenticity, business and economic constraints, Thomas Keller's view on refinement and Ferran Adria's concept of "magic", and more) but it's lunchtime. Let us be thankful for what's on our plates.

                                                                                                                  72 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: calf

                                                                                                                    Good points. But a few words for "authenticity". By really engaging a culture in the most authentic way, there are some amazing discoveries about their cuisine and even, perhaps, the health benefits of the food. So for example, when I eat at a great American/French restaurant, such as Per Se, I get a bit of a food hangover. When I eat in Paris at Guy Savoy or Tallevante, I don't. There is a sense of balance and proper mixing of food that goes into precisely cooked authentic French food. It goes into the wine pairing as well.

                                                                                                                    LIkewise, Italians don't put cheese on seafood. Is it health related, or about highlighting the freshness of the fish? Whichever, it's an incredible revelation to actually paritcipate in an authentic approach and learn what the cusine form is trying to say.

                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                      Well I think I'm working with a different definition of authenticity. What you seem to be describing is traditional food, food that comes from a lineage and has a strong sense of heritage. But that is only one kind of authenticity, because in our increasingly interconnected and multicultural world, the traditional ways are harder to access and for many people harder to relate with. That's just how it is, for better or worse.

                                                                                                                      So my question to you is: if you went to Per Se and talk about it in terms of "hangover", have you really engaged, authentically, with American culture, on its own terms, i.e. making a conscious choice not to hold it against French values and standards?

                                                                                                                      1. re: calf

                                                                                                                        That's a really great question-very insightful and generous. And your idea of "not holding against French values and standards" is excellent. Your approach to authenticity is very compelling. I think I have addressed SOME aspects of American culture on its own terms, but probably not all.

                                                                                                                        I think American food culture has many great things-adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore, a sense of unlimited possibility, willingness to evolve, openness to other cultures, a can-do attitude, a sense of the democratization of food. But it might lack certain things as well; lack of balance, lack of restraint, some lack of subtlety, overconfidence at times, and sometimes an unwillingness to allow the taste of the natural agreements to come through with more simplicity and less elaboration. Perhaps it doesn't appreciate hierarchy as well, and in fact may have an almost knee jerk reaction against it.

                                                                                                                        My appreciation of French food was for it's sense of balance, subtlety, and willingness to allow the food to be more simple and less overpowering. But I think French food has it's weaknesses-too much adherence to rules, a bit of angry snobbishness, too much inflexibility.

                                                                                                                        I love Per Se enormously as an almost kind of fusion restaruant, I wouldn't go too often (assuming I could afford to). Balance is the missing element.

                                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                          So these food hangovers only come when having a menu that is inspired by another countries cuisine? Like french at Per Se, or maybe even a more fitting example, the kaiseki menu that's currently being offered at Next?

                                                                                                                          or is it that you're just less likely to find that balance you seek, when the menu is inspired or even fusion rather than authentic? Have you ever found it? Hangovers from Benu, Saison, Coi, etc? (if you've visited)

                                                                                                                          sorry for the loaded question, I'm not trying to interrogate..just curious.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                            I don't mind fusion. I don't get food hangovers unless there's a lack of balance with too much food. For me. for example, a Steak house where I have been too tempted by all the sides and appetizers, often results in a bit of a hangover. Part of it is the lack of balance in the menu, the other part is my own lack of balance in ordering and eating.

                                                                                                                            But fusion is often executed without an actual deep understanding of the target cuisine. So certain Asian fusion might be nothing more than adding some asian flavors, without the real texture of the target cuisine. In Asian cuisine it might be sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, mirin, dashi. American Chinese food is a kind of strange fusion, and I and many of our Chinese family and friends find it a bit overwhelming and unkind to our stomachs.

                                                                                                                            Haven't tried Saison or Benu yet. In SF I used to go to Masa when Siegel was there. It's a bit fusion-y in culture at that time, but it was great. Danko and 5th were great, and I never got the "food hangover" thing. I am not that expert in SF area, though. Sorry.

                                                                                                                          2. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                            "-adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore, a sense of unlimited possibility, willingness to evolve, openness to other cultures, a can-do attitude, a sense of the democratization of food"
                                                                                                                            arrgh! it sounds like you're describing JAPAN.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                              Chowrin,

                                                                                                                              Excellent point.

                                                                                                                              Foodlovergeneral,

                                                                                                                              If you look closely, Japan actually adapts more readily than most other countries. In term of culture, religion, philosophy, it heavily adapted from China in the ancient time, and heavily mimics the West in modern times. Think of it objectively, Americans have greater influence in Japanese daily diet, than Japanese on American. Look at the kitchen knives, Santoku knife was invented in Japan as a way to combine Japanese nakiri with the Western Chef's knife. Look at all the cookware in modern Japanese kitchens including frying pan, saute pan, ...etc. They are nothing like the cookware Japanese use 100 years ago. Listen to Japanese songs, a good portion of modern Japanese songs have English lyrics. You don't find this in US songs. Look at hair styles, look at clothing...

                                                                                                                              Look at tempura. A adaption of Western (Portuguese) foods.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                Japan has certainly adopted some American foods and what not. But I'd hardly call the U.S. an "influence" on Japanese daily diet. Japanese basically think food in the U.S. is lousy and usually generalize our cuisine into a few common stereotypical items. Except for well-traveled individuals with some on the ground experience here, I don't think most Japanese even consider that there is a proper dining culture in the U.S...other than big portions.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                  I too have not had the experience that Japanese are so interested in American food. They don't like it. I was close with a Japanese Marshal Arts master who lived here. It was quite impossible to introduce him to American cuisine, no matter how well prepared.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                    Since moving to Japan, I've been cooking a lot of "American" food, and almost all the Japanese people I cook for really love it. They're really interested in American food, wishing they could cook something like it more often, but many feel it could be a chore to learn, or assemble the ingredients. Things like casseroles, mac and cheese, BBQ, avocado dip, banana pudding, brownies, pot roasts, alfredo sauce pasta, buffalo style chicken wings, chips and salsa, burgers, and so on). I know a lot of Japanese folks who have returned from living abroad in the US for a long time, and they also share with me that they miss a lot of American foods, and the one thing we all seem to agree on is American steaks... those thick steakhouse steaks. While Japanese premium beef is great, it's not something one can eat a lot of with all that fat. A few tasty pieces is fine, but that big ol' American steak is something we all seem to covet. Well, that and Honey Nut Cheerios.

                                                                                                                                    The problem in your statement is that I have no idea what you mean by "American" food. And that "we" Japanese don't like it. I like it, and so do a great majority of people I know in Japan. Granted, none of us are martial arts masters (at least that I know), so maybe our opinions aren't quite as significant.

                                                                                                                                    While I tend to agree that Japanese are adept at adopting and adapting culinary techniques from around the world, they're also great at adapting their own cuisine. I mean, look at sushi (the original subject). Sushi isn't the same as it was 60 years ago in Japan. Also, much of the everyday cuisine has also been shaped by necessity and availability. Besides so many local variations on Japanese cuisine (some unrecognizable from far flung parts of Japan), many aspects have been shaped in the post-war period. While rice was scarce, millet and wheat flour imported from the US were abundant. Because of this, we probably wouldn't have seen the growth of dishes like okonomiyaki or takoyaki, or even greater production of udon.

                                                                                                                                    Also, to address all this talk about Zen and Confucianism in culinary practices in Japan, I wonder whether these eastern philosophies are waning in the professional kitchen. The reason is that nowhere else in Japanese organizations will one find young leaders in their 20s or 30s as you find in some of the most respected new restaurants in Tokyo. In a professional/corporate world dominated by unquestioned obedience to elders and a current lack of fresh ideas and entrepreneurship, justified by what many critics consider a stronghold of antiquated ideas in the 21st century, it seems to be breaking down in the kitchen, where new ideas and entrepreneurship are flourishing.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                      I actually spoke to a Japanese chef this week in North America who makes decent sushi. His movements, his sense of purpose, his care for the food and the customer and his desire for a high level of perfection are very much about the Zen/Confucian heritage embedded in Japanese culture. There was a North American born Asian working for him as a sushi chef in training, and it was clear that there was much less attentiveness to everything, including the customer. I asked him, "Do you think a North American can become a great sushi chef". "Sure, but I have not yet seen one."

                                                                                                                                      As for Zen and Confucian attitudes breaking down in the kitchen- sure-I suspect you are right. But Zen is more embedded than just the ideas. There are actually deeper aspects that seem to be embedded in Japanese culture. And not just in great marshal arts masters. It's not easy to see. But it shows up nonetheless. It shows up as not just a blind adherence, but as a sense of respect for elders and even a respect for mastery and even for politeness and kindness. I met a Japanese girl in "grunge" style clothes yesterday in America. She was extremely respectful of her own cultural heritage-it was not about some sort of blind resentment or adherence to about "unquestioned obedience" to use your term. The Japanese system of respect still is quite strong because of how deeply embedded it is culturally. It has some very good aspects that have not yet gone away.

                                                                                                                                      In the movie Tempopo, there is some poking fun of the corporate aspect of blind obedience, and it is portrayed in a somewhat unflattering light, as you point out. And at the same time the heroine of the movie, Tempopo, begs a truck driver to be her master and teach her how to make ramen. She recognized the importance of the humbleness of being a student and the importance of "transmission" of skill. This may have been tongue in cheek, but it is a big aspect of the culture. Notably, producing the great ramen was not about discovering a new techinque-it was about going to many different experts and learning the tradition perfectly-boiling the pork bones first, not letting the boil go too long or strong, adding a chicken, how long to let the dough sit or rest, how many times to kneed the dough, how to stand to best understand the customer's experience, how to cut the scallions the exact right way. This is Japanese culture and quite closely related with Zen tradition. Mastery as a means to creativity is how I would describe it.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                        I guess Jacques Pepin would be pretty much epitomize the Zen of the kitchen then. What you describe sounds like the French apprentice system. The movie is called Tampopo, by the way. And it was a parody of the American spaghetti western.

                                                                                                                                        True enough that Zen/Confucianism is deeply embedded in Japanese culture, but many of the traditions that wed these ideas in the corporate world seem to be revealing themselves as contradictory in the 21st century. The kind that allow corporate cover-ups and lack of corporate transparency (e.g., Olympus, Fukushima Daiichi), media controlled by corporate interests, the general lack of a meritocracy, and an political landscape where outside challengers are routinely shut out. All justified by an embedded sense that the more "enlightened" elders are leading the way to a better future (i.e., a real SNAFU). My point is that the only industry that has been able to break away from the antiquated ways that Japanese corporate culture tends to work is the food industry. One could argue that there have been more advancements in the culinary world in Japan since the bubble burst than in the electronics industry, and that is most likely due to breaking from the old ways of doing things. Still, yeah, there's a certain Zen to the ways people in Japan go about learning things. As a coach/instructor for a sports team, the stark difference in the ways western expats and local Japanese approach the game can be striking. I guess that's as close to a martial arts master as I get.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                          Tampopo-thanks for the spell check-was also a parody of Japanese society, not just spaghetti westerns, though there was a pretty funny scene about eating spaghetti.

                                                                                                                                          I am sure that corporate pig-headedness can exist in all cultures. I am sure that similar problems exist in U.S. or Chinese companies as well and I would not attribute it to a Confucian reverence for elders, which was probably not what you were doing.

                                                                                                                                          The French apprentice tradition has similarities, but my son was a chef under one of the famous French chefs. It's quite different in most aspects. I think the Japanese version of it is much more wholesome and decent than many of the French apprentice training situations.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                            Being an apprentice in a Japanese restaurant or in any endeavor, can mean enduring bullying, intimidation, verbal abuse, and corporal punishment. This is an endemic underlying part of Japanese culture. It's much more substantial and widespread than anything in the United States. And Japanese culture is in fact geared toward not reporting such abuse and therefore it perpetuates itself. If you live there long enough, there will some things that will simply make you sick and wonder why no one does anything about it.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                              THat goes for any where you live. I have lived in Quebec for example, one of the most racist and corrupt areas in North America with high levels of angry people who are quite willing to express anger and rudeness. I have lived in New York where you have to give pay-offs to the garage attendant so that they give you your car in a reasonable amount of time and park it in a more favorable location for doing that. I have lived in California where the government is going bankrupt and there's levels of arrogance that is unprecedented. I can go on and on.

                                                                                                                                              I don't have first-hand experience in a restaurant in Japan, so I take your word for it. But I was trained by Japanese, and never found them to be abusive. Intense at times, yes. Abusive-no.

                                                                                                                                              In the food community in New York, the French chefs have a certain notoriety for abusiveness. The Japanese chefs perhaps don't.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                Some of the Japanese chefs in NY do have that abusive reputation. And there are Japanese businessmen who run their own businesses here that are fucking crazy abusive as well. We've had legal run-ins with them and didn't look the other way and pursued it through the authorities.

                                                                                                                                                Most of the Japanese restaurants in NY are run by corporations that rotate people through various shops and have a certain amount of turnover they must contend with. More prevalent in Japan are owner/chef operations, where this type of behavior occurs. Happens in NY as well at these same type of operations.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                  Didn't know that.

                                                                                                                                                  As you can tell from me, being a Buddhist is not a complete cure for being a jerk. Imagine how bad I would have been had I not been one.

                                                                                                                                                  I have had some good experiences with Japanese-but I am sure that's quite subjective and can't be extrapolated. On the other hand, perhaps the food experience can be extrapolated in various ways.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                          <She was extremely respectful of her own cultural heritage>

                                                                                                                                          That would be neo-Confucianism, not Zen. A class structure is the core teaching of Confucianism.

                                                                                                                                          < how to cut the scallions the exact right way. This is Japanese culture and quite closely related with Zen tradition. >

                                                                                                                                          Rules and regulations again is more inline of Confucianism than Zen. Zen is about free oneself, not binding oneself. Confuscianism focuses on classes, structures, family relationship..., and a very very important aspect: Propriety or Etiquette (禮)

                                                                                                                                          With respect, you don't seem to read what people actually write, but interpret in your own liking.

                                                                                                                                          Chowrin's statement was dead on when he said:
                                                                                                                                          ""-adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore, a sense of unlimited possibility, willingness to evolve, openness to other cultures, a can-do attitude, a sense of the democratization of food"
                                                                                                                                          arrgh! it sounds like you're describing JAPAN."

                                                                                                                                          Adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore...etc all describe Japanese very well. Does it describe Japanese adaptation of American or French is a finer point. The general point stands

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                            Zen is about respect. Freedom is not some hippy-ish ideal of freedom, which is what you are describing. Freedom comes from intense rigor, and studying Zen is extremely regorous and based upon rules, etiquette and propriety. I suggest you study the moon, not the finger. You should get a better book if you insist on studying the finger.

                                                                                                                                        3. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                          Japanese most certainly do like our prime beef and Japan is where a whole lot of it ends up. Are there significant numbers of American style steak houses in Japan?

                                                                                                                                          On a side note: I have a relative who was an executive in the petroleum industry who lived in Japan for several years managing the construction of refineries many years ago. Of all the countries they lived in, my aunt said Japan was her favorite. She loved the culture and said the Japanese people were extremely proper and gracious and always put the concerns of others before their own. 30 years later they built a gorgeous 10,000 sq ft home in the mainline (PA) and every room, of which there were many, contained items they brought back from Japan.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                            In New York City, over 7% of the restaurants are Japanese. 5% or so are French or continental.

                                                                                                                                            In Tokyo, 1.5% of the restaurants are American. 7% of the restaurants are French/Continental. (I included steakhouses in American, so it might be a lower number since the Japanese do have a lot of their own steakhouses).

                                                                                                                                            If those statistics suggest anything, it seems as though the American preference for Japanese food is much larger than the reverse.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                              I'd love to see where you get those numbers. I wonder if your NYC numbers also include Korean, Chinese places and delis that serve sushi. Also, these figures do nothing for your argument.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                                That's a good question as to whether it included Korean or Chinese places that serve sushi, though in New york City proper, I don't remember that there were a bunch of those. The stats came from Tripadvisor which has some pretty complete lists, though perhaps not perfectly complete or perfectly accurate either. There are 531 restaurants that are either Japanese or Sushi, of which 33 of the sushi places are not listed as Japanese (I don't know what that might mean). And you may be correct that this does nothing for my argument-but that's not certain. This may very well support the argument.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                  Sounds like a silly place to get your numbers. Try the DOH or something more official.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                                    Sounds silly to me to go through an immense amount of work just because you think Tripadvisor is silly. Especially since you think these stats are meaningless. No?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                      TripAdvisor is primarily an American tool and it's doubtful that it captures anywhere close the number of restaurants that say, Tabelog, in Japan does.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                        Not saying they're meaningless. Just unreliable. TripAdvisor's list isn't comprehensive. I've added restaurants to their database when I participated with them. I don't any longer, well, because the site's a bit fraudulent.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                                          While incomplete, it is probably still pretty representative and bears some semblance to the actual totals and categorizations. I too don't trust the reviews. But in Japan, the number of American restaurants might get overstated if Americans, nostalgic for American Food, tend ot use the site more, which is Silverjay's contention. This would make the percentage much lower if many Japanese restaurants are not included. However, there are 22000 restaurants mentioned in Tokyo vs. 7000 for New York, so something is working.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                  <n Tokyo, 1.5% of the restaurants are American.>

                                                                                                                                                  I seriously question that number especially if you count volume sale in American fast food restaurants. You have a link to your numbers?

                                                                                                                                                  http://www.myvoice.co.jp/biz/surveys/...

                                                                                                                                                  http://whatjapanthinks.com/tag/fast-f...

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                    I seriously doubt American restaurants, fastfood or otherwise, account for even 1% of the restaurants in Japan.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                      I don't really have any idea what your links are suggesting. Perhaps you can enlighten us.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                          Sorry, as I said just before, I am not so well studied as you are-I can't read Japanese. Perhaps you would like to translate for us.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                            Sorry. But the other link (the one above) is in English I believe.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                              I didn't see an English link. And I am not sure which of the several "perfection of wisdom" sutras this is. I think you are under teh impression that there's just one sutra called perfection of wisdom. I believe there are quite a few.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                I will provide some rough translations for the My Voice charts. I'm not a pro translator by any means but:

                                                                                                                                                                -It was an internet survey of about 13,000 people conducted in 2006.

                                                                                                                                                                Question 1: How often do you eat "fast food" such as hamburgers and gyu-don (this means beef bowl like Yoshinoya)?

                                                                                                                                                                Some results:
                                                                                                                                                                -31% eat it 2-3 times a month
                                                                                                                                                                -27% eat it about once a month
                                                                                                                                                                -About 21% said they don't eat fast food more than a few times a year.

                                                                                                                                                                Question 2: What time of the day do you get fast food?
                                                                                                                                                                -60% lunch time

                                                                                                                                                                Question 3: For those who eat fast food, what makes you consider it? (multiple answers accepted)
                                                                                                                                                                -76% said cost
                                                                                                                                                                -48% said tastes good

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                  I am getting a bit lost, but wasn't that provided in the context of showing that Japanese like American food?

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                          Your right. One of the biggest groups of statisticians are meteorologists working with super computers and how often are they right ????? My point is there are so many variables that taking stats from a few sites is hardly a scientific approach. It could takes weeks or even months of research and math to come even reasonably close to a realistic number. Just the difference in the % of Americans living in Japan (vs) the % of Asian people and their eating preferences living in America could be a huge variable that would have to be investigated.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                    <But I'd hardly call the U.S. an "influence" on Japanese daily diet>

                                                                                                                                                    Daily may be too much of an exaggeration as an accurate description, but there are certainly a good numbers of McDonald, KFC, Starbuck ...etc in Japan. So a good numbers of people are eating these foods. I do agree that they don't think of American foods as fine as the French foods for example, but it does not mean American foods have less of an impact. Heck, we Americans do not think of Japanese cars as good as German cars, but there is no question that we are more affected by Japanese cars than German cars.

                                                                                                                                                    Let's take one step back. The original point I was making is that Japanese actually adapt foreign foods more so than Americans do.

                                                                                                                                                    For example, in Japan, you can find a good deal number of Raman shops, which many of my Japanese friends considered as kind of Chinese foods.

                                                                                                                                                    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_hX--1d5JJ8A...

                                                                                                                                                    Up til 1950's, Ramen shops were simply called Chinese noodle stand: 支那そば. Of course, now, you get to see McDonald everywhere.

                                                                                                                                                    Japanese in general embrace foreign foods, foreign products, foreign culture more readily than most other countries. Japanese drink more beer and wine, than we American drink sake. Japanese listen to more American songs, than we listen to Japanese songs, Japanese watch more of American baseball or basketball than we watch Japanese sumo or judo ....etc. I believe that was Chowrin and my point.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                      I personally think fastfood et al, are more a story about successful business than actual culinary influence. Those places exist as little islands in the mass cultural spectrum and the Japanese culinary universe.

                                                                                                                                                      Yes, I agree on Japan's penchant for importing, adopting, or assimilating aspects of other culture. It has been well covered here by you all. At the same time, Japan maintains a reputation for innovation and ingenuity as well. It's an interesting dichotomy.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                        <Yes, I agree on Japan's penchant for importing, adopting, or assimilating aspects of other culture. It has been well covered here by you all. At the same time, Japan maintains a reputation for innovation and ingenuity as well>

                                                                                                                                                        No doubt.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                      Corn on the cob
                                                                                                                                                      Hamburga
                                                                                                                                                      Cheesuburga (they chant this at concerts.)

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                        KFC Christmas cake.
                                                                                                                                                        Hell, cake in the first place.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                                          You can get Kit Kats and Snickers at the train station kiosks as well. Listing foods and building a case of influence are two different things.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                            The world, not just Japan, is becoming highly porous. You can find many if not most types of cuisine in Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, New York, London, etc. The Japanese, it seems, are highly likely to Japanify a cuisine. So "ramen" seems much more Japanese at this point than Chinese. IN fact, the ramen places coming to New York are not emulating Chinese "lamien" but are emulating Japanese ramen. Tempura doesn't look like anything you can get in Portugal. The French pastries you get in Tokyo have a very different an unique quality. In fact, there is a Japanese born French style pastry chef in Paris and one in Montreal and their pastries have a very unique and even Japanese style to them.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                              < So "ramen" seems much more Japanese at this point than Chinese.>

                                                                                                                                                              That is the point Chowrin and I were making. Japanese adapt foreign foods. That is the definition of adaption. In reverse, just because California roll is not like any sushi in Japan, it does not change the fact that California roll is an American adaption of Japanese sushi. Now, that being said, the statement of '"ramen" seems much more Japanese at this point than Chinese' is inaccurate.

                                                                                                                                                              The reason that it is inaccurate is because there wasn't Japanese version to begin with. If there was a Japanese version, then you can say the fusion product is more Japanese or more like Chinese, like a child looks more like the father or the mother. However, because there wasn't a Japanese version, then it cannot be "more Japanese".

                                                                                                                                                              <Tempura doesn't look like anything you can get in Portugal>

                                                                                                                                                              Same point as above. These points support Chowrin's view that

                                                                                                                                                              *"-adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore, a sense of unlimited possibility, willingness to evolve, openness to other cultures, a can-do attitude, a sense of the democratization of food"
                                                                                                                                                              arrgh! it sounds like you're describing JAPAN.*

                                                                                                                                                              It is difficult for us to understand what you are trying to communicate. What is your position anyway? Are you trying to say that Japanese have LESS adaptability, creativity, willingness to explore....than Americans? If not, then I truly do not know what you are debating. it seems that you are disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                I am saying that the Japanese are not quite as interested in adapting their food from other cultures as you seem to suggest. Having KFC and McDonalds notwithstanding, the Japanese are very much about their own cultural food heritage and when they do import, they are more likely to transform their imports into their own style. If you go to a "yakiniku" restaurant, it has a very interesting Japanese style, not Korean, despite it's roots in Korea. IN fact, I urge you to try the Yakiniku places in New York if you have a chance. You will see.

                                                                                                                                                                The "Chinese" ramen had become very Japanified. I don't agree with you that "ramen" is Chinese any more. My cousin owns a ramen restaurant in Philadelphie, he is Chinese, and he trained at Santouka and uses their recipe quite precisely. He tells me that he would like to add more chicken in his mother's style, but feels compelled to stick to the ramen approach. Ramen is a Japanified version of what was once Chinese. New York pizza is New York pizza. It has it's own incredible heritage that has departed from it's Italian roots, of say, Neapolitan pizza with it's strict adherence (in some quarters) to using tomatoes from San Marzano, double 0 flour from Italy, mozarella di bufala from Italy, etc. Japanese may call it Chinese food, but it's style has become totally Japanese. In Cuba, if your pedigree is that you have 1/32 Chinese blood, you are strangely considered Chinese. Likewise, there's very little Chinese blood left in ramen. They don't say "ni hao" when you walk into Ippudo in NY. They say "irashai".

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                  <they are more likely to transform their imports into their own style>

                                                                                                                                                                  That is the definition of adoption.

                                                                                                                                                                  <New York pizza is New York pizza>

                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, I know, but that does not mean Americans did not ADOPT pizza. If it did not invent, then it adopted -- even it was changed later. If Japanese did not invent ramen, then it adopted ramen. Like I said, it wasn't so long ago that Japanese themselves call Ramen as Chinese noodle. So it is their views that Ramen is Chinese or adopted from China.

                                                                                                                                                                  <I am saying that the Japanese are not quite as interested in adapting their food>

                                                                                                                                                                  So let's get the record straight. Are you saying that Japanese did NOT adopt ramen from China (or some other countries), but rather invented it? A yes or no answer will do.

                                                                                                                                                                  <Likewise, there's very little Chinese blood left in ramen. >

                                                                                                                                                                  Frankly, I have no idea what that really means. The concept of noodle? Very Chinese. The concept of the ramen broth? Chinese. The concept of using fatty belly pork? Chinese. The concept of putting an egg on noodle? Chinese. The concept of putting green onion on noodle? Chinese....etc..etc

                                                                                                                                                                  What part of it seems to you that "there is very little Chinese blood left ramen"? Let's count component by component. Which components in Japanese ramen (which I don't disagree has a Japanese take) are very non-Chinese. Let's count them:

                                                                                                                                                                  I suppose the use of seaweed is more Japanese than Chinese. What else? Some Ramen use Miso -- which is Japanese, but not all Ramen use Miso...., and Chinese already was using Chinese bean paste - which probably encouraged Japanese to use miso.

                                                                                                                                                                  I say if you look at this topic very objectively and focusing on the question, then you will find that Japanese ramen is about 80-90% component-wise similar to Chinese noodle. Does it mean the 10-20% change is not significant? Of course not. 10-20% is still significant, just like California roll is a noticeable change from traditional sushi. No one disagree this, I don't. However, it is inaccurate to say "there's very little Chinese blood left in ramen."

                                                                                                                                                                  <In Cuba, if your pedigree is that you have 1/32 Chinese blood,>

                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, but that is precisely why you are undermining your own ramen position. I can scientifically and technically show you that this so called Chinese only has 1/32th of his gene chromosomes from a Chinese: percentage by percentage, components by components, and this is not the case for ramen. At the end of the day, this is not the largest point. The larger point Chowrin and I were making is that Japanese have great willingness to adapt foreign culture along with other characteristics. It does not really matter if ramen is 90% Chinese or if ramen is 70% Chinese. It was adopted.

                                                                                                                                                                  <They say "irashai".>

                                                                                                                                                                  Is that really a support argument? Then the fact that most Korean restaurants in US say "Welcome" in English means what? Look, you know this, and I know this. This is not even a valid argument.

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                              Silverjay,

                                                                                                                                                              I think there is a difference between an influence on a high elite level vs an influence on a general population level. For example, the French cuisine has a greater and more respected influence on Japanese modern cuisine than American foods -- especially for elite cuisines, but I think American foods penetrate deeper in the the common Japanese population. This is not just happening in Japan, but also so many other countries too, like Korea, China, India.

                                                                                                                                                              The successes of McDonald and Starbuck have much to do with their marketing as you have stated, but marketing is meaningless if people don't accept it. At the end, influence can be measured by effects on daily life. Let's take iPhone and Andriod as our example. I am not a phone guy, but I was told that Android is just as powerful and more flexible than iPhone, and the success of iPhone is largely due to its very successful marketing strategy. At the end of day, many more people use iPhone than Android. This means, in true effect, iPhone affects our society more so than Android. I think the same can be said about American foods vs French foods in Japan.

                                                                                                                                                              Mario Batali maybe a better chef than Rachel Ray, but Rachel Ray likely to have a greater influence on the general population than Mario Batali.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                I disagree. People there enjoy and patronize a few American fast food chains and eat corn on the cob, etc. That speaks to acceptance, availability, embracing of some American foods. Those are just blips on the culinary landscape. I don't think if you spent any significant amount of time there you would come away with the impression that Japan is significantly influenced by America with regards to food- in either fine foods or everyday foods or in home meals. Burger King bailed from Japan and Wendy's downsized. Starbucks battles heavily with Dotour and plenty of other local competitors and made their mark more for the non-smoking policy and pleasant interiors. It's not a rosy picture of embracing what's American. There are more Chinese restaurants than McDonald's and KFC combined, but those two American imports have certainly carved out a nice niche for cheap, quick eating.

                                                                                                                                                                All things considered, Chinese is by far the largest foreign influence on everyday Japanese cuisine. Maybe that and whoever you want to award the introduction of bread to. Beyond these, maybe French or Portuguese or whoever you want to assign as influential from the Meiji Era. These days, Italian is starting to get really popular though. Korean has an influence as well. I would put American after these. But way after.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                  <I have no idea what you are talking about>

                                                                                                                                                                  This story is repeated and listed multiple times in different Zen texts. If you don't know, then you need to read it. For example, in "大智度論" (Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom)

                                                                                                                                                                  語以得義,義非語也。如人以指指月以示惑者,惑者視指而不視月。人語之言,我以指指月令汝知之,汝何看指而不視月,此亦如是。語為義指,語非義也。

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                    I know the story-it was the applicability and the other points of your post that I have no idea about. But as they say at Chowhound perhaps we should let it go.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                      In that case, ask yourself this. Was your question asking me about being in Japan, similar to I asked you about being in Lanzhou? If so, how do you feel about that question? No need to reply to me, just yourself.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                      By the way, the Great Treatise on the Perfection of WIsdom is an Indian Sutra. And the story you are referring to about pointing at the moon and Hui Neng, the 6th patriarch comes from a different source, not from the Perfection of Wisdom. But you like to argue, don't you, as you suggest I do. And you like to point your fingers.

                                                                                                                                                                      As for food, I think authentic Japanese food is quite compelling in part because of it's Zen heritage.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                        < But you like to argue>

                                                                                                                                                                        Not at all, it seems to me that you are arguing every single tiny little point you can find instead of looking at the bigger pictures. You are not just arguing with me.

                                                                                                                                                                        < And the story you are referring to about pointing at the moon and Hui Neng, the 6th patriarch comes from a different source>

                                                                                                                                                                        Similar stories were told many times before in different circumstances. For one, I am telling you this story now, so this is another time -- if someone is recording this. This is why I originally and accurately wrote "This story is repeated and listed multiple times...".

                                                                                                                                                                        Yes, the one which Hui Neng said is from a different text because he said it at a different time. Yet, the Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom has mentioned this. I can quote you the Hui Neng one if you like. I just don't see the point. Like I said, if you read exactly what I wrote....

                                                                                                                                                                        Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom, Chapter (大智度論卷第九). I quoted the EXACT passage. I feel like I have to hold your hand and guide you every single step. It should not be this difficult to read and understand on your own.

                                                                                                                                                                        "依義者,義中無諍好惡、罪福、虛實故,語以得義,義非語也。如人以指指月,以示惑者,惑者視指而不視月。人語之言:我以指指月,令汝知之,汝何看指而不視月?此亦如是,語為義指,語非義也"

                                                                                                                                                                        http://www.baus-ebs.org/sutra/fan-rea...

                                                                                                                                                                        Look, you may think you are some authority on Buddhism or Zen over other people, but you may need to think that again.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                          The story of Hui Neng was from a different source, not the parable about the finger and the moon. And this quote refutes your earlier contention that there are no Zen texts from India.

                                                                                                                                                                          You should do more research before making pronouncements about something you have done little more than read a book about, such as Zen. The words are not the moon. At least get the words right.

                                                                                                                                                                          You don't even think you are argumentative, but you are. You don't think you are insulting, but you are. "It would not be this difficult to search on your own".

                                                                                                                                                                          By the way, I am not a great scholar who can read sutras in Japanese as you are. I read them in English. Sorry. I am surprised with all your erudition that you didn't know that this was an Indian sutra.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                            <The story of Hui Neng was from a different source>

                                                                                                                                                                            Yes, I said so too from the very beginning. I specially wrote that too. I said the same story was told many times, and then I quote a different source. A bit confusing maybe, but I did say it was told many times before, and then quote a different source. Don't worry so much who said the story, but the teaching of the story.

                                                                                                                                                                            <The words are not the moon.>

                                                                                                                                                                            I know. Zen is not Moon. I never said that the characters of Zen and Moon are the same. However, the moon in the story does represent the truth and enlightment

                                                                                                                                                                            <you don't even think you are argumentative, but you are. You don't think you are insulting, but you are. "It would not be this difficult to search on your own".>

                                                                                                                                                                            But here is the thing, if you did the search, then you know I quoted the passage correctly. So obviously you did not do the search. So here was my take, and correct me if I am wrong. If you were into knowing the truth, then the first thing you would have done is that you would search the Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom and see if my passage was there -- and it is, and you won't have written what you wrote. You wrote your earlier reply because you did not do a search on the Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom, but realized that it is an Indian sutra. This is why I said, it should not be that difficult to do the search on your own as in searching my passage in the text.

                                                                                                                                                                            As for argumentative, that really depends. You see. I am talking for the larger points. The story and the meaning about the finger and the moon. The meaning of truth finding. You were arguing on the finer points like if the story was told by Hui Neng vs your teacher vs your neighbor. Does the teaching and the meaning of this story changes because it was told by Hui Neng or another person? No, it should not. The meaning and the teaching is the same.

                                                                                                                                                                            <I am not a great scholar who can read sutras in Japanese as you are>

                                                                                                                                                                            They are no in Japanese. They are in Chinese.

                                                                                                                                                                            <ou didn't know that this was an Indian sutra.>

                                                                                                                                                                            I do know it is an Indian sutra translated into Chinese. I have read it. I know.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                              Actually, I did not do a search until I realized that you were referring to a different Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) sutra than the one that I spent 30 years chanting. But perhaps you can send me translation of the one you read in CHinese. But as you probably know, since you are so erudite, the Japanese use the formal Chinese in certain contexts. I think reading sutras is one of those contexts.

                                                                                                                                                                              ANd you are wrong-I don't rely on getting my information from the internet-I have been studying for decades. I didn't just do a wiki-search on Zen, as you have seemed to do which led you to the erroneous conclusion that Zen DIDN'T come from India because you took the finger for the moon.

                                                                                                                                                                              As for food, you should stick to it. Japanese food is far better when appreciated, rather than read about. I suggest you do that instead of using your internet for sparring.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                <But perhaps you can send me translation of the one you read in CHinese>

                                                                                                                                                                                Didn't I just send you the Chinese one?

                                                                                                                                                                                <Zen DIDN'T come from India >

                                                                                                                                                                                I really don't know any Zen scholars think "Zen" is from India. They think Buddhism is from India.

                                                                                                                                                                                <Japanese food is far better when appreciated, rather than read about. >

                                                                                                                                                                                Are you implying that you know more about Japanese food? You do realize that you have no replied back on my question about "little Chinese blood left in Japanese ramen", right?

                                                                                                                                                                                <I suggest you do that instead of using your internet for sparring.>

                                                                                                                                                                                You sparred with half of the posters on this board. I am not sparring with half of the poster here. So who is your cousin who run a Japanese ramen shop in Philly?

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                  You think Zen scholars think that Zen is not Buddhism? I don't think you know very much about Zen. But I am impressed that you can read Chinese. Perhaps you can translate the small sections about the finger and the moon so the rest of the readers can appreciate it.

                                                                                                                                                                                  No I was not implying that I know more about Japanese food. I must have missed your question about Chinese noodles, sorry.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Chinese noodles come from China. Ramen comes from Japan.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                    <You think Zen scholars think that Zen is not Buddhism>

                                                                                                                                                                                    You are putting words in my mouth. I will say this one last time. I gave examples after examples, but you do not read any of them. Zen is part of a branch of Buddhism, but Zen was not found in India. Buddhism is.

                                                                                                                                                                                    For your own sake, read this time. Quantum mechanics is part of physics, but quantum mechanics was founded in the 17th century in Western Europe, while physic is probably 600 BC or earlier in Greece. Zen is part of Buddhism, but it was founded at a later time and at a different location: China. Your assertion is like saying Quantum Mechanics was founded in Greece in 600 BC because the original physics was founded there.

                                                                                                                                                                                    <I don't think you know very much about Zen. >

                                                                                                                                                                                    Based on what? Based on the fact that I said Zen is founded in China -- which I am right.

                                                                                                                                                                                    <Ramen comes from Japan.>

                                                                                                                                                                                    Japanese Ramen is founded in Japan -- I did not deny this. You again do not seem to comprehend what other people are saying. I said Japanese Ramen is Japanese, but its concept is largely founded/adopted from China. It really isn't this difficult to understand these logics. California roll is invented in US, but the concept of making a California roll sushi is adopted from Japan.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                      I am not going to continue this fruitless dialogue.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, I asked for the TRANSLATION of the one you read in Chinese. I am still amazed that you can read that kind of classical Chinese. Wow. Please translate that little blurb you sent on the Finger and the Moon Mr. Classical Chinese expert so we can all enjoy it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Perhaps you should eat more Japanese food and really get beyond so much internet based erudition. Japanese food is really amazing in many ways. For example, when you make a dashi with nothing more than bonito and kombu, and it comes out with such a pleasant result it's almost magical.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                      < I am still amazed that you can read that kind of classical Chinese. Wow. Please translate that little blurb you sent on the Finger and the Moon Mr. Classical Chinese expert so we can all enjoy it. >

                                                                                                                                                                                      This is why self reflection is helpful. You have challenged me several times on different personal levels, and each time you look more foolish than last. Really? Mocking and taunting by calling me Mr. Classical Chinese expert? First, you challenge me if I know Zen. I think most readers can already tell I know some. Then, you challenge me about visiting Japan -- which I have. Now, you challenge me if I can read Classical Chinese.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Yes, as a matter of fact, I can read classical Chinese. I was trained and can read some ancient Chinese texts, including Four Books, Tao Te Ching, and others. Granted that, classical Chinese is a bit of general term, because there are many different levels. The more ancient, the more difficult. For example, I cannot understand "I Ching"

                                                                                                                                                                                      如人以指指月,以示惑者,惑者視指而不視月。人語之言:我以指指月,令汝知之,汝何看指而不視月?此亦如是,語為義指,語非義也

                                                                                                                                                                                      Not only I can translate the general meaning. I can translate words for words, phrase by phrase.

                                                                                                                                                                                      如人以指指月 As if a person used his finger to point to the moon
                                                                                                                                                                                      以示惑者 To show that ( those) who is (are) confused
                                                                                                                                                                                      惑者視指而不視月 The confused person looked at the finger, but not the moon
                                                                                                                                                                                      人語之言: This person spoke this (following) statement:
                                                                                                                                                                                      我以指指月 "I use my finger to point to the moon
                                                                                                                                                                                      令汝知之 so that you can know it
                                                                                                                                                                                      汝何看指而不視月 Why do you look at the finger, but do not watch the moon
                                                                                                                                                                                      此亦如是,As if this
                                                                                                                                                                                      語以得義 Words can get to the truth,
                                                                                                                                                                                      義非語也 but truth itself is not in words"

                                                                                                                                                                                      Now words for words translation

                                                                                                                                                                                      如As if
                                                                                                                                                                                      人A person
                                                                                                                                                                                      以use
                                                                                                                                                                                      指finger(this one is noun)
                                                                                                                                                                                      指to point (this one is verb)
                                                                                                                                                                                      月moon

                                                                                                                                                                                      <Perhaps you should eat more Japanese food and really get beyond so much internet based erudition>

                                                                                                                                                                                      I should eat more, but you should try less to challenge/mock people who actually know something -- and frankly more than you do.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                        As I said, not interested in this fruitless conversation. You win. You know much more than I do after reading a few books and websites.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                          <As I said, not interested in this fruitless conversation>

                                                                                                                                                                                          Me neither, but please do understand 90% of what I wrote was based on your requests. I didn't translate that out of the blue. You asked me to.

                                                                                                                                                                                          <You win>

                                                                                                                                                                                          You are wrong. It is not about winning. It is about truth seeking.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                        New to the thread but I find it highly amusing that you think any culture with a significant amount of American restaurants is somehow immune to the influence of american tastes. What about that style of Japanese cuisine that redoes classic american food I believe brought over after ww ii? But more to the point eating at mcds once a week will change your taste level vs a diet of purely Japanese food. Not to mention the fact that other western food has more similar taste profiles to one another than they do to traditional Japanese, which means the japanese palate is used to many western tastes. and many are widely adopted that this influence is significant.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: fara

                                                                                                                                                                          I guess that's a good point, but you're conflating the point about western influence. Western does not equal American. And you're thinking about yoshoku cuisine, which was introduced before WWII, but has steadily developed since then. Western culinary influence has come in broad strokes historically, but I think you exaggerate American influence.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: fara

                                                                                                                                                                            McDonald's are not American restaurants. They are American style restaurants serving food adapted to Japan. By population, Japan is one of the largest countries in the world. Tokyo alone has close to 200,000 restaurants, which is more than London, Paris, and Rome combined. This is a scale that most people are not familiar with or I think even capable of adequately comprehending from plucking around on the internet. American fast food outlets are but a mere drop in the bucket in the culinary scene.

                                                                                                                                                                            And yes, I have already mentioned the adaption by Japanese to other tastes:

                                                                                                                                                                            "All things considered, Chinese is by far the largest foreign influence on everyday Japanese cuisine. Maybe that and whoever you want to award the introduction of bread to. Beyond these, maybe French or Portuguese or whoever you want to assign as influential from the Meiji Era. These days, Italian is starting to get really popular though. Korean has an influence as well. I would put American after these. But way after."

                                                                                                                                                                            Post WWII, I can think of the following American influences, which are mostly dietary, not culinary:

                                                                                                                                                                            -Broader introduction of dairy into everyday and school diets
                                                                                                                                                                            -Broader introduction of wheat into everyday diet through forced importation for post-war nourishment
                                                                                                                                                                            -Re-starting of Japanese whaling industry as a source of cheap protein for post-war nourishment
                                                                                                                                                                            -Fast food outlets

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                              This confirms my impression of influence- yes I suppose it is dietary and not culinary. Thanks for delineating that.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                          Off point, but I wanted to correct your observation that many more people use iPhone than Android. Its actually the other way around. Android phones as a class far outsell iPhone. If you want to compare by single model, iPhone to Samsung Galaxy, that's a different matter. Now back to your original programming...

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                                                                                            Interesting. Thanks for the information. I will double check.

                                                                                                                                                      2. We are lucky to have two of the best Japanese/Sushi restaurants in the entire country here in Austin, Uchi and Uchiko. Tyson Cole is the owner and runs the kitchen at UCHI, while top chef winner Paul Qui ran the kitchen at uchiko until recently. Both restaurants focus heavily on sushi/sashimi (although non traditional), and tyson cole won the James beard award for best chef SW in 2011, while Paul Qui won best chef southwest this year. I htink that proves that non japanese people can make some pretty damn good japanese food/sushi.

                                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8660...

                                                                                                                                                          Just in case you missed it, I mentioned Cole in the above post. I also talked a bit about why I suspect especially talented non-Japanese sushi chefs like Cole wind up making non-traditional sushi.

                                                                                                                                                          If I ever wind up in Austin, Uchi is definitely on my list of places to try.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks, I had missed it, this is quite a long thread!

                                                                                                                                                            I actually prefer uchiko to uchi, but that may change now that Paul Qui has left. He is opening up a new place here next month though (just sent a resume off so wish me luck :P)
                                                                                                                                                            My first experience at Uchi was a real eye opener for me, it exceeded expectations 10 fold, and I had very high expectations.

                                                                                                                                                            You should definitely add Austin to your food destinations though, the food scene here is amazing right now, and as a BBQ aficionado you have to make the pilgrimage to Franklins here in town as well!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                              I look forward to Austin food trip. I will definately try sushi there. But I am really wanting to try the great Mexican delights-I heard that one of the greatest chefs from Mexico runs a food truck. Is that true?

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                If there is a super famous Mexican chef running a food truck here it does not come to mind, but Ive only been in Austin for about a year so I definitely have a lot to discover. There are some AMAZING trucks here though, so it wouldnt suprise me. The aforementioned Paul Qui has three trucks here in town.

                                                                                                                                                        2. Wow. Just wow.
                                                                                                                                                          I think this thread redefines "going off on a tangent." Really, the origins of shoyu and ramen? That cracks me up, while acknowledging that the conversation is healthy and interesting.
                                                                                                                                                          Do the chefs have to be Japanese?
                                                                                                                                                          For me yes if I want to experience Japanese style nigiri, omakase service, sashimi or chirashi. I just wont order from the Chinese or Korean places because its typically nowhere near as good. Its a simple preference for the food, and not rooted in any traditions, food origins or racism. I am not so snobbish that I snicker at the folks thinking the ultra pink tuna or that $15 monstrosity of a roll is outstanding. Good for them. Its just not for me.

                                                                                                                                                          But no if I am ordering maki rolls as an alternative to standard take out fare. I might even enjoy the brown rice concoctions prepared by a chef of Spanish speaking descent. Albeit rarely.

                                                                                                                                                          I think many people share that sentiment and the practical and financial reality for most folks dictates that some compromise is necessary when you just want an alternative to a turkey sandwich or a chicken caesar wrap. :)

                                                                                                                                                          I really think it is that simple. The only cultural difference might be that the Japanese seem to take more pride in what they serve, while others seem to be more interested in running a business. And that is fine too. Cant blame a guy for trying to make a buck.

                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: AdamD

                                                                                                                                                            I like your post a lot. I have eaten the big orange rolls at airports when i want something healthier than a burger. The fish is not well cut, is a little bit older than I would like. Here's my attempt at a poem:

                                                                                                                                                            Healthier to eat some fresh fish on some rice,
                                                                                                                                                            Than to ruin my health with french fries-not so nice

                                                                                                                                                          2. I am very fortunate to know legendary Japanese Chef Matt Ito, owner of Fuji Restaurant in South Jersey. He was of the first Sushi chefs in the Tri-State area (early 70's) and folks driving Bentley's & Rolls with NY tags traveled close to a hundred miles to dine in his restaurant. He told me he avoided the Philadelphia Fish market (20 minutes away) and traveled 2 plus hours EVERY day to NY and was first in line for the best / freshest seafood money could buy. Back then, a serious language barrier prevented non Japanese chefs from training under such masters. Over the years though, the language barrier has been broken and many, many non Japanese chefs have trained under the guidance of masters and I think its an insult to say they are inferior to their Japanese counterparts. As I stated before, if one has the proper training & the willingness to go the extra mile to obtain the best / freshest ingredients available one does not have to be Japanese to serve up world class Japanese cuisine. I also think its quite unfair to compare Japanese cuisine restaurants that cater to budget conscience diners to high end Japanese restaurants REGARDLESS of the nationality of the Chef. Its like comparing the corner white box takeout Chinese joint to an inner city China Town restaurant with a 30 plus year legacy.

                                                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                                                                                                                              Does Massaharu "Matt" Ito agree with you that he's not Japanese? Where is he a "legend", I would like to read up on his background if you don't mind before I go there.

                                                                                                                                                              I did find one magazine review of the restaurant which was quite favorable. However, Sasha Isenberg, the famous sushi expert called Matt's sushi uninteresting. I am not making any conclusion, but you have brought up someone who was raised in some sort of Japanese culture and used that as an example. I think you might want to come up with a better example.

                                                                                                                                                              The China Town example is a bit questionable; I have Chinese friends who live on Bowery, near Canal. They are Chinese foodies from Guangdon. They don't think too highly of many Chinese restaurants in China Town-especially not the 30 year old ones. Perhaps you can suggest a good one that you know of in China Town (I assume you mean New York?).

                                                                                                                                                              My cousin (Chinese from Hong Kong) took me to a very unusual one last year that is very old, but quite different. I will try to do a review on Chowhound one day.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                Nobody said he wasn't Japanese. My point was that one of his secrets was spending 4 hrs on the road every day to get the best ingredients money could buy, which a chef does not have to be Japanese to do. As for Isenberg, Ito forgot more than Isenberg will ever know about preparing sushi. Being wealthy enough to travel the globe eating sushi, being able to write books and having the connections & $$$$ to get them published does not make someone an expert on anything. Al Gore really does believe he invented the internet!!! If he could find a publisher who was just as arrogant & ignorant as he is who would publish a book proclaiming Gore created the internet better than 1/4 of the US population would believe it. Does that make it true? I think not!

                                                                                                                                                                As far as the internet goes, many pioneers in their respective fields receive little if any recognition on the internet because their work often predates the internet and they know little or anything about computers. The Grandmaster I study under is a 65 yr old 9th degree black belt (Highest Korean black belt) and has only a few hits on the internet. Many of the Martial Arts Studio owners in the Mid Atlantic region who have pages of internet hits were his former STUDENTS & I do not know of anyone in the martial arts community who would even think about engaging the Grandmaster in a street fight.

                                                                                                                                                                As for the China town comparison, my point is that many people try to compare apples to oranges and then come to profound conclusions that are meaningless. The same is true for Sushi restaurants. How in gods name can one compare a chain that has Mexicans preparing sushi to a pro whether the pro be Japanese or not.

                                                                                                                                                                As I said in the previous post, the language barriers are largely gone and many non Japanese chefs have trained under the same masters as their Japanese counterparts and I have not read one tangible thing on this thread to suggest otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                                Celebrity French Chef Georges Perrier (Owner/Chef LeBec-Fin) has trained many non "French" Chefs over the years who went on to be world class chefs specializing in French cuisine and I fail to see why the same is not true with non "Japanese" chefs with Sushi.

                                                                                                                                                                In closing, I will not be the least bit offended if you do not respond to this post as I clearly do not have the time to dedicate to this subject as you apparently do.

                                                                                                                                                            2. Folks, we'd ask that you please try to stick to food related topics. Zen and how it affects food is okay, but the history of Zen philosophy and zen and martial arts are all getting really far afield for Chowhound. Please just let those tangents go.

                                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                                                                                                                                This is why CHOW needs an unsubscribe function for threads! Once a thread has devolved into arguing about Zen's origins and political potshots with debunked myths about former Vice Presidents, things have gone to the dogs....

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sgordon

                                                                                                                                                                  GOod point. Sorry sgordon. I will stay with food.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sgordon

                                                                                                                                                                    Your right about drifting off the food end of the subject but wrong about the former VP's internet claim being a debunked myth, I saw him say it & discuss it at length. My point as it related to a food critic who gave a very accomplished & highly respected Japanese chef a mediocre review is that anyone can claim to be an expert at anything and with enough financial resources and influence publish a few books and develop a following which often then expands exponentially.

                                                                                                                                                                2. Last night I was at a new Sushi place in downtown San Diego. The owner is Korean as are the chef's, but after having the sushi and sashimi on a number of occasions, getting to know the owner and the chefs, I've been very impressed. I know the reputation that most Korean run sushi places get, and this is quite the opposite.

                                                                                                                                                                  Anyway, two guys walk in. The first question, "is the Chef Japanese?" the hostess tells them they are not, (though they don't ask to find out that many of them have been making sushi for 10+ years, and we're taught by Japanese chefs if that matters).

                                                                                                                                                                  They walk over to the bar look around for about 30 seconds and leave. I was really hoping that they might sit, or at least that I would know what it was that made them decide against staying. I suspect there decision was made once they heard that it was not a Japanese run establishment - I may have done the same thing before having the food here.

                                                                                                                                                                  I've been to Urasawa and other "top" level spots around so-cal, and I'm still pleased by the quality and experience everything I eat here. I would have loved to get their thoughts.

                                                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                                                                    Very interesting. First, they didn't give it a chance at all, since they, like many of us-not all- on this thread, have yet to experience much great sushi from non-Japanese.

                                                                                                                                                                    Second-that they walked into a restaurant without checking it out and researching it first surprises me quite a bit.

                                                                                                                                                                    I had Korean made sushi-it was well made, but something was missing. Also the sushi had an elaborate and strage quality to it. My Korean friends have encouraged me to go back to that place for their "omakase" which I will at some point.

                                                                                                                                                                    THere is a famous Japanese restauraunt run by an American chef in Boston I just heard about called O-Ya. Has anyone tried it? It is ranked as one of the best restaurants in U.S.

                                                                                                                                                                    Also, has anyone tried Naoe in Miami, Florida? Chef is Kevin Cory, I think he is part American and also of Japanese decent. I think he trained with great chefs in Japan at a ryokan by his Japanese uncle chef and by a chef skilled in kaiseki in Kyoto.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                      I almost wanted to chase after them and ask what it was that made them decide against it.

                                                                                                                                                                      A good friend of mine, who I actually visited Urasawa with (he's been twice) has also gone to O-YA, his assessment was that it was very, very good - but far from the traditional experience, and not on the level of Urasawa

                                                                                                                                                                      my own opinion from reading reviews, though they serve mostly nigiri and sashimi - it seems to be very contemporary style, the sauces and accouterments are much beyond what you would traditionaly find even at Masa and the like.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                                                                        Urasawa sounds amazing. I visit L.A. so rarely-would I want to go for a Korean chef's sushi? I would not be optimistic vs. the intense training that was sought out by Ursawa's chef; perhaps you can persuade me otherwise. He too trained with a kaiseki master in Kyoto.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                          I've heard that Urasawa's former sous chef is Korean, who ended up afterwards at a gig at the French Laundry and either the person who replaced him, or before him was Urasawa's brother in law. Likewise Masa Takayama in NY's Masa restaurant had at least one Korean sous chef, who also branched out on his own.

                                                                                                                                                                          Then there's Sawa Sushi in Sunnyvale...very controversial in some cases due to his approach and style yet gets high marks in Opinated About Dining and his blogger friends, plus Michelin recommended. The owner is Korean, apparently born and perhaps raised/spent a lot of time in Japan, and if he really wanted to, he could produce kappo ryori/kaiseki/hybrid sushi as good as 15 East, Urawasa, Masa, and the hybrid kappo sushi places in Taipei....but instead he takes super high end ingredients and turns it into a sashimi and oversaucefest...thick cuts of excess instead of traditional balance and finesse. In some ways that helped him survive and thrive. Tradtionalists might not stand that style, but there's a segment of the market that worships him. Previously he worked with some of the more well known Japanese sushi chefs in the 1980s in San Francisco Bay Area.

                                                                                                                                                                          It's really what someone does with their training otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                            For a true sushi fan, who appreciates everything about the experience, it's absolutely worth a visit. Even if I ever make it back, I think my first visit will be the most memorable...if you're interested: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/801540

                                                                                                                                                                            now if we're just speaking of the sushi quality - yes, it's still the best, but that alone would not warrant the price discrepancy between Urasawa and the second best I've had (still a Japanese place

                                                                                                                                                                            )

                                                                                                                                                                            My point with the Korean restaurant is that there is a stigma, that while sometimes warranted, in this case was not. Many believe that all Korean run places are simply about pumping out low quality rolls for AYCE and the like. What I've found here is an owner that is committed to providing quality sushi, and Chefs who are skilled at their craft and while it's not the best I've ever had - it' has always been enjoyable and consistently exceeded the expectations I've had for non-Japanese establishments.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                          Does "American" = "white" in your post?

                                                                                                                                                                      2. Has anyone tried Chef Kim's new place in New York? He trained under Masa-but he is not Japanese. It's called "Neta"?

                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                        1. I just had sushi at a restaurant with a non-Japanese sushi chef. The restaurant, Yakko-san in North Miami is owned by a Japanese owner and has been around for a very long time. It is billed as an izakaya, and it has a lot of dishes you find at American Izakayas. I went at about 2:00 and sat with the sushi chef who was trained by the owner.

                                                                                                                                                                          I asked him what was fresh. The uni (sea urchin), the salmon, the tuna, and two local Florida fishes that were fresh caught. I had sushi and sashimi and miso soup. The quality of the fish was excellent. The shaping of the rice was very well done. The chef's knowledge about the product and the vast encyclopedia of things sushi was very low-that is the limitation of the restaurant. My guess is that all of the dishes are created by the chef/owner. In addition, the sushi was cut a bit inelegantly as compared to great sushi restaurants. But the chef was a really nice and friendly person.

                                                                                                                                                                          I greatly enjoyed the food, as long as I stopped my tendancy to compare. It was good and enjoyable fish, first and foremost. I avoided all of the fish that weren't extremely fresh or special, and it left me with only the 5 fish that I mentioned. The uni was exemplary. The chef said it comes from Japan, but I am pretty sure it came from southern California as much of the uni imported from Japan comes from the U.S. first.

                                                                                                                                                                          There was a lot of the Americanized sushi offerings and the chef tried to sell me on those. I am not "enlightened" enough to suddenly go back to California rolls, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                          I must admit, I had been taken there the previous year and ordered beef tongue, which I really appreciate. That really helped me to come back here. They have a high zagat rating, which would never be there if they were in NYC. But I enjoyed it immensely. I guess you don't have to be Japanese to make enjoyable sushi. Is it good sushi? Yes and no.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. I would enjoy good sushi, no matter if the chef is Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese--

                                                                                                                                                                            Not of particular concern to me.

                                                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Kholvaitar

                                                                                                                                                                              I don't think many people can tell the difference in the sensation of eating sushi that is perfectly cut with a cetain type of precision. So far, I have only experienced that from Japanese Chefs.

                                                                                                                                                                              So far this year I have had two experiences that confirm my suspicion;
                                                                                                                                                                              1. Japanese restaurant claimed to be authentic. Food was very sloppy, though the tastes seem to comport with Japanese cooking, more or less. I suspected that the chef was Mexican known for good abilities in flavoring. Asked waitress-"How did you know?"

                                                                                                                                                                              2. Korean Restaurant-The worse Korean resto in New York's Korea town i have ever been to. Asked waiter if chef was Mexican. "No-he's peruvian". I was surprised. I didn't suspect ever that a Korean restaurant would have a Chinese chef.

                                                                                                                                                                              3. Went to "Mandoo Bar" in Korea Town. Great dumplings. Tasted and looked Chinese. I started to speak to the cook WAS, lo and behold, Chinese. In that case, I think being Chinese didn't hurt at all.

                                                                                                                                                                              For you sensitive people, this is not racism. This is experience. I would love it if a Chinese chef could make great sushi. Or an Italian chef. Not my experience yet, though. Can't wait. I am married to Chinese person. She says the same thing about Chinese sushi chefs. She goes one step further-she doesn't trust the fish if it's a Chinese chef; "They may cut the corners, and even substitute fish if they are raised in Mainland China". Fish substitutions are in fact a problem these days.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. This is an interesting question. For any cuisine, the issue with having people not from the native country do the preparation isn't that they are less skilled, but they may have a less well-tuned sense of the essence of that cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                              When you grow up eating a kind of food every day, you have a sense of that style of cuisine that's deeper than if you start eating it later in life.

                                                                                                                                                                              Without that background, you might be more inclined to make variations and focus more or less on certain details, and overall not be as aware of subtle things which bring quality.

                                                                                                                                                                              For many cuisines, consumers may not care. Even with Italian cuisine, there are people who talk about many rules about how cuisine must be prepared, and specific ingredients, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                              With Japanese cuisine, there's another issue where most ingredients are actually foreign to American cooking, so consumers have even less of a frame of reference to compare a good vs. bad preparation. That may be why there's even more of a focus on chefs who grew up eating the cuisine in question.

                                                                                                                                                                              When people say a chef "has to be Japanese" I don't think that's meant to be a racial issue, as if Japanese people inherently are better at this. If there was a Korean or Mexican person who grew up in Japan and knew the cuisine as intimately as a native Japanese, that would be the same thing.

                                                                                                                                                                              10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: calumin

                                                                                                                                                                                I think where this issue ends up getting sensitive is that these debates often arise with the notion that chefs native to the cuisine (implying being raised within the specific food culture more so than being specifically of that ethnicity) is usually applied to non-Western cuisines (in this case meaning European food).

                                                                                                                                                                                No one asks if Thomas Keller can be/is a good French chef because he's not French. And when reading hearing about his professional highlights no one talks about how much he loves France and French culture (or even how much French language he knows) - it's about how he was trained at a high level. However, Rick Bayless's mini-bio always has to include how much he loves Mexico, Mexican culture, Mexican people, etc. Why is being a good French chef just about learning technique whereas being a good Mexican chef means taking courses in culture appreciation?

                                                                                                                                                                                I think the problem with Sushi outside of Japan probably comes more to restaurants themselves cutting corners based on what the dining public cares about rather than the chef. Israel gives work visas to a number of Japanese sushi chefs a year to compensate for the dining demand. But the quality level of sushi demanded is fairly low, because on average the expectations aren't very high. The only time I've been served a piece of sushi with a fish scale on it was from a Japanese sushi chef (in a place in Israel). And the best sushi I've ever had in Israel was from a place where the owner traveled to Japan, trained there, and then has trained his (largely non-Japanese) staff.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                                                  I think you're on to something WRT quality = expectation. Jiro Ono's approach (with the concomitant prices) wouldn't get you very far in most parts of the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                                                    I actually don't enjoy Keller's restaurant that much. I have, in fact, attributed it to his not being French, at least partially. There is a sense of balance, for example, that i have had enjoyed at Guy Savoie in Paris, Alain Ducasse in Paris, and Tallevante in Paris that I found missing at Keller's restaurants (both). I found them too showy, or over blown-and just way too much food, despite the high level of craftsmanship and excellent flavorings. The French sensibilities are much more restrained, for the most part. I enjoy great American chefs, but I don't really enjoy Keller for French food.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                      Out of curiosity then, do you see all American chefs as providing "great American food" - or are there certain American chefs that you see providing great Italian, Spanish, etc. food?

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                                                        The chefs at Lincoln and Marea, Benno and White in New York make incredible Italian food, I think. Both Americans. Jay Pasternack-also I enjoy his Italian cuisine at Esca. I have yet to have great Mexican food cooked by an American anywhere in the entire U.S, though I can't wait to try Bayless' restaurants in Chicago. I have had some salsa from his "frontera" lable-it was awesome. I do think that a lot of food made by later generation families to be lacking. I also suspect that a lot of great European or Asian chefs could make burgers. One of the best burgers in New York was made by a Japanese trained in Paris at Robuchon at the Four Seasons in New York (closed now). I do admit that my knowlege of Italian cuisine is a bit limited and I may over estimate the quality of the aforementioned restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                          I think it is possible to be so reductionist to say that all food made outside of X place is not X food. When you hear a phrase "using French techniques with Australian/Chilean/Thai ingredients" - is it ever French food? I don't know and that's not entirely the point of this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                          My main problem with the issues of sushi chefs being Japanese is that it ends up putting cultures into a dichotomy where Western cultures/cuisines can be taught whereas nonWestern cultures/cuisines are more intuitive/genetic. It's all part of old tropes of the "West" being more scientific/organized (and thus teachable) whereas the non-West is not, and thus is not teachable. I don't think it's racist on its own - but it's part of a lot of problematic thinking.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Personally, I've never had a falafel outside of the Middle East as good as inside the Middle East. No matter who made it. I don't think it's necessarily that the Middle East holds a power over falafel - but rather the dining public is either not educated on a "great" falafel or are expats/travelers who are grateful for "close enough". Falafel is not without technique or proper equipment - but it's hardly the breath and depth of sushi. I just suspect that's more where the quality levels of sushi are affected more so than the inability of nonJapanese to become sushi chefs.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                                                            I think that French cooking is hard to teach to non-french chefs. They can learn the techniques, but the sense of creating an experience that is balanced and, well, French, is not there. Even Gordon Ramsay, for example, who is about as well trained as any chef can be-at his restaurant in London there is some sort of non-French feel to the cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                            As you say, Middle eastern falafel tastes much better. Is it the ingredients, the audience, or the environment itself? Is it terroir? Italian food in Italy almost always tastes much better. Why is that? Interestingly, for me, I have been very happy eating pizza at many of the new Neopolitan places springing up. They bring in their flour, their tomatoes, sometimes the mozarella di bufala as well from Italy. Some even bring in the bricks for the oven. They are very religious about the temperature, and the time and style of cooking. Some of them bring over pizza makers from Italy. The results are great. IN fact, Keste uses Mexican piazzollas. (Motorino in NY, Keste in NY, Eataly in NY, Amano in NJ, Locale in Boulder CO, Bottega in Montreal are one's I have liked).

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                                                              I suspect the real issue with Keller is much the same as the issue with many non-Japanese sushi chefs (and even some Japanese sushi chefs cooking abroad): he's cooking for American customers and the American food media.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Compare Boulud, who is of course French born and raised. I could be wrong, but I suspect you won't find much more balance and essential French-ness in the tasting menu at Daniel than you would at Per Se. Basically, I think you're ascribing a chef's tendencies to cultural differences among the chefs when really the cultural differences and expectations among diners is the bigger factor.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                Can't argue. You are correct in surmising that I didn't appreciate Boulud much myself. Nor did I really love it when Alain Ducasse came to New York and offered a menu that seriously diverged from their Parisian restaurant and seemed to do exactly what you said-appeal to the American audience. But the American audience's expectation was arguably shaped by the pioneers-Keller perhaps the most important-creating these massive displays. Did they do it presupposing the audience's likes and dislikes or because they are American's and we have a certain propensity to create bigger, better, faster, showier, etc.? I think it's the latter. Insofar as that matches the public taste, it's a success and creates a food trend. Then it became the norm. I think that's kind of what developed in the 1980s and 1990s and was followed up by European chefs who came to the U.S. By Y2k, or so it seemed, all sorts of cuisines were offering the multi course prix fixe meal. So it's an interplay between natural propensities of the chefs meeting a public that is predisposed by their propensities towards looking for the latest and greatest innovation. No proof for this, just an observation.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: calumin

                                                                                                                                                                                    I think this is an extremely important point that you make. Real deep knowlege of a cuisine can be crucial to being innovative and have a sense of quality in that cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I was at a favorite Taiwanese haunt in Flushing-Taiwan 101 recently. I noticed a decline in quality. I asked if their chef-a chef from a high quality Taipei hotel-was still there. No. The new chef was from Henan, but had been well trained by the prior chef. My Taiwanese and Fujianese friends thought that the food was still good despite a decline in quality. So the chef was trained well and had some dishes in his repertoire. But his depth was a bit off and his sense of what was good by Taipei standards was a bit off. I noticed that the Taiwanese pork chop and chicken dish were not as interesting and well done. Other dishes were not so enjoyable. But having said that, I may have been wrong. This restaurant is still well frequented by the Taiwanese-but maybe they don't have many options.

                                                                                                                                                                                  3. This reminds me of a sushi chef that worked out of a totally American style "hibachi grill " place. There was a sushi bar at the entrance with a few tables next to it . This sushi chef was Japanese and trained in Japan I believe . Why he was at this place I'm not sure though it was clear he had an open distaste for both authority and American tastes. my guess is he was not super hireable bc of this. The sushi was much better than what was locally available in spite of the location and his attitude, or maybe bc of it.