Samurai sushi chef seeks hardworking apprentice

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A SUSHI chef with Samurai forebears is seeking a hardworking apprentice to learn the fine art of authentic Japanese cooking.

Kaori Simpson, a restauranteur at Harajuku Kitchen on Gillespie Place, needs someone willing to immerse themselves in the cuisine for which Japan has become world famous.

Our reporter John Connell tries his hand at making sushi with Kaori Simpson. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Our reporter John Connell tries his hand at making sushi with Kaori Simpson. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

There are few chefs in Edinburgh able to create authentic Japanese cuisine, which is something Kaori is keen to change.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Leith, is the fourth generation of her family involved in the food business and some of her recipes are more than 115 years old.

Speaking of what she is looking for in apprentice, she said: “Honesty is the most important quality. It all starts with character in our restaurant. Then there is determination to learn, and to be good at it. Obviously, you have to love Japanese food and be passionate about the culture but a background in Japanese cooking is not necessary.”

The main training would take between two and five years, she estimated, but to become an expert sushi chef can take up to ten years.

Japanese food is distinctive because of the emphasis it places on health and how to meet the nutritional needs of the body.

“Japanese food is also an art,” she added.

One chef who knows exactly what would be involved is Jamie Magee, of East Lothian, who works in the kitchen.

He took up Japanese cooking two years ago out of “curiosity” and a desire to learn a style of fine cuisine.

The 21-year-old not only had to get to grips with a completely new style of cooking but also with aspects of the language itself.

He said: “The only advice I would give is ‘apply yourself’: you can do it if you put your mind to it. I have flourished since I came here”.

As Japan’s feudal way of life crumbled with the onset of modernity, the restaurant business became an honourable alternative for the retired Samurai because the Emperor loved fine cuisine, with many putting down their swords and taking up kitchen knives.

Kaori’s great grandfather, though not himself a chef, started the family business when he created a very traditional restaurant complete with Geisha girls.

WORLD HERITAGE STATUS FOR JAPANESE CUISINE

LONG famed for its sushi, Japan also has an expansive repertoire of traditional dishes beyond raw fish.

Last year it became only the second nation after France to have its cuisine designated heritage status.

The country’s traditional cooking, celebrated for its centuries-old techniques and seasonal ingredients, has been added to the United Nation’s cultural heritage list.

The decision was made amid concerns that fast food and western dishes were eclipsing the nation’s proud and ancient culinary heritage.

john.connell@jpress.co.uk