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SOURCED FROM ICHIRO JAPANESE RESTAURANT

Katsuyuki Sakura lives, breathes, and eats sushi. “Making sushi is never boring,” he says during an in-person chat. He jokes, though, that sometimes he gets tired of eating it. Sakura, sushi master at Ichiro Japanese Restaurant (110-12011 2nd Avenue, Steveston), displays passionate enthusiasm and knowledge of his craft, as well as a mischievous sense of humour.

His sushi story began when, at eighteen-years-old, he left Akita, Japan, to pursue a restaurant career in Tokyo, the sushi capital of the country. His father wanted him to join the family welding business, but Sakura had other plans for himself. Akita had little in the way of sushi establishments, so Sakura knew that he had to leave home to follow his dream.

He was hired at a small sushi restaurant where he was the sole employee, working under a demanding and exacting boss (“Do it like this!”). Everyday, Sakura would be left alone to run the business while his boss went to buy fresh fish at the famed Tsukiji Market. Even when the owner returned, he was too sleepy from his early morning shopping to work.

While usually it takes a few years to train as a sushi chef, Sakura was forced to learn all the necessary techniques within three or four intense months. “It was very fast, and very hard,” he says, grimacing at the memory of his difficult training. Especially demanding was learning how to filet the fish, as well as making sure the rice wasn’t overly sticky. Sakura learned that if the rice stuck to his hands, he still had more learning to do.

After four years at this first restaurant, Sakura went on to work for approximately fifteen more sushi restaurants in Tokyo, at each place acquiring new skills, as well as deepening his existing ones.

 

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Then, roughly thirty years ago, Sakura saw a newspaper advertisement looking for cooks to work in restaurants in Canada. At the time, he says that there was a trend in Japan of workers seeking employment here. Wanting a change, he decided to move to Vancouver, where he worked as a sushi chef at ten restaurants, including the Kamei Japanese restaurant group, before starting at Ichiro a decade ago. When he first arrived in Canada, the types of fish available were limited and there were few sushi restaurants in town. Clearly, things have changed since then.

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With an impish smile, Sakura says that a good sushi chef needs to be “smart and handsome,” as well as clean and focused. The individual also needs to be open to continual learning. For example, Sakura still reads and researches extensively about sushi making.

At Ichiro, Sakura brings decades of experience in order to offer elevated sushi. He talks of the importance of a delicate balance when it comes to the use and amount of all ingredients. With nigiri, the rice shouldn’t overwhelm the fish, nor should the slices of fish be overly large compared to the amount of rice. This balance also shifts depending on the type of seafood being used.

The rice itself is also an art form. Unlike some other sushi chefs, Sakura never uses the same rice as he uses for the donburi (rice bowls) and carefully adjusts the water content, depending on the season and humidity. Ultimately, he says that the rice should have some firmness to it, be at room temperature, and not be too tightly packed. Sakura adds, though, that because customers in Canada tend to use chopsticks (versus their hands, as they do in Japan), to consume their sushi, he makes the sushi here slightly more compact than is traditional.

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The freshness of the fish is incredibly important to sushi making, explains the master. Sakura receives both Japanese and local fish on a daily basis and pays attention to sustainability and quality. Bluefin tuna, for instance, is not on the menu due to its endangered status. The restaurant also prides itself on fileting whole fish, as opposed to buying it vacuum packed and pre-fileted.

There are seven sushi cooks that work alongside Sakura. And although he was shouted at and berated during his training, Sakura explains that times have changed. Instead, the sushi master patiently mentors each of his cooks, teaching them the deft knife cuts and seafood expertise that he has gained over the years.

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Sakura says he enjoys working at Ichiro in Steveston because of the restaurant’s proximity to fresh seafood, and the fact that the surrounding landscape reminds him of home. “Around here is like the countryside, and I was born in the countryside,” he says. In addition, the personable chef loves interacting and joking with his customers. He says that if diners are unsure of what to order, they should ask him to recommend the day’s freshest seafood. And they shouldn’t be afraid to ditch those chopsticks and dig into the sushi with their hands!

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EXAMPLE OF OMAKASE; SOURCED FROM ICHIRO JAPANESE RESTAURANT

Recipe for Ichiro’s Tuna Tartar

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SOURCED FROM ICHIRO JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Ingredients: Measurements:
Sashimi quality tuna 60-100 g
Avocado Half
Your favourite veggies As you like
Japanese mayo 50 g
Wasabi paste 5-10 g
Lemon juice 10 ml
White wine 5 ml
Soy sauce 10 ml
Sesame oil 5 ml
Quinoa, crackers Optional

Method:

1) Slice the avocado into very thin slices and arrange them into a long chain of petals. Place a round mold or cookie cutter on a plate and place the chain of avocado along the edge of it.

2) Chop the red tuna into very small pieces. In a small bowl, mix the Japanese mayo, wasabi paste, lemon juice, white wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and the chopped tuna.

3) To serve, fill the mixture of tuna on top of the avocado slices and press down a little bit to shape. Lift the mold.

4) Garnish with your favourite veggies, crackers, or fruit.