Is Being a Sushi Chef Easy?

A sushi chef has an artistic, demanding job that demands special skills.
i Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

If you've been to a Japanese restaurant, you may have noticed that many sushi favorites are just slices of raw fish or shellfish on a bundle of rice. Don't underestimate the jobs of sushi chefs based on the seemingly simple appearance of the food, however. Sushi preparation is an art, and it requires specialized culinary skills.

Sushi Chef Education

    Like other culinary professionals, sushi chefs usually begin as students. In Japan, sushi chefs traditionally spend from eight to 10 years studying their craft. Describing the lifestyle of a sushi apprentice to Restaurant Girl, famed chef Masaharu Morimoto said he lived above the restaurant where he trained, which is typical. Apprentices spend all their time at the restaurant, he said.

    You don't have to spend a decade in Japan to become a sushi chef, but most employers do require either experience or training. To meet that requirement, consider sushi programs in many cities that require a two- to three-year commitment. You can complete some programs in less than six months. If you're considering a crash course, make sure it's for professional chefs. Also check to see if you need previous culinary training.


    Sitting at a sushi bar, a customer may never guess how much knowledge a sushi chef has or how much work goes into the job. A sushi chef has to know various Japanese cooking methods. In addition to knowing about a variety of seafood, meats and vegetables, a sushi chef must know how to handle and cut them. Slicing is an essential part of the craft that can be challenging. The cutting of fish such as mackerel can take a long time to master.

    Sushi rice differs from other sorts of rice, and a sushi chef needs to know how to store it and prepare it. Improperly cooked rice can wreck a sushi experience, which leaves little room for error. A sushi chef also has to remember the proportions and ingredients for menu items, such as the list of sushi rolls.

On the Job

    A sushi chef's work usually begins before customers arrive. They often prepare items such as soups, stocks and sauces in advance and stock the work area with needed materials. Once service begins, a sushi chef doesn't strictly focus on filling orders. Presentation is an extremely important part of the job. Not only does the food need to be appealing, but the chef has to add garnishes and present sauces in a way that reflects creativity.

    Sushi bars are often fast-paced environments, and a sushi chef needs to keep pace without sacrificing quality. Since sushi chefs often work in front of customers and receive tips, they need to be courteous and display good customer service skills. In the midst of all this, they bear the same responsibilities as other culinary professionals, such as ensuring proper food handling and sanitation methods.

Career Advancement

    Master sushi chefs have to stay abreast of trends, and they need to create new items to intrigue customers. Making a good impression is key to advancement in this field. But making sushi is a business like any other, and as a chef advances, he'll usually assume more operational duties. Tasks include price planning, ordering and doing inventory. Even with education and previous experience, a new sushi chef often needs some on-the-job training, a responsibility that falls upon the senior sushi chefs.

the nest