B.C.’s first sushi program in New West
Brian Kim teaches English to foreign students. But he dreams of sushi.
When Kim, 42, was growing up in Korea and then Japan, he aspired to become a sushi chef, but his parents had bigger things in mind. He went to university, and earned a Masters degree in economics.
Four years ago, Kim immigrated to Canada and established an online ESL school in Vancouver. He’s also a month into fulfilling his dream, studying to become a sushi chef at Central College in New Westminster, the first such program registered and accredited in British Columbia by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency.
The program was started three years ago by Master sushi chef Don Lee, who saw a need to train sushi chefs to serve the unique tastes of Vancouver sushi lovers.
“Canadian sushi is very interesting, it’s different from Japanese sushi,” says Lee. “In Vancouver, sushi is like a fusion, we use a lot of the vegetables like avocados and cucumbers.”
In Japan, training to become an intamae, or sushi chef, can take up to a decade of training and apprenticeship. The program at Central College lasts a year, split evenly between classroom study and a placement at a sushi restaurant.
Students are taught a basic knowledge of Japanese cuisine, including its history and the cultural context of dishes, the safe storing and handling of food, how to use and maintain knives, preparation of sushi rice, Japanese sauces and stocks, techniques for making sushi dishes and their artistic presentation as well as business management skills.
While in Japan sushi is steeped in traditions that have been passed on through generations of chefs, Lee says he encourages his students to be creative because that’s what western customers expect.
“In Japan if you have one ingredient you can make one kind of sushi,” says Lee, whose own signature dish is called the “Captain Crunch” roll. “Here, if you have 10 ingredients you can create 100 kinds of sushi.”
Kim, one of 14 students currently enrolled in the program, hasn’t reached that level of confidence yet. He’s still working on his California rolls; he’s cut his preparation time for the favoured staple of every sushi menu from three minutes to one, and his rolls have gotten tighter.
“It looks easy but it’s not,” says Kim. “You have to have a lot of skill.”
Lee says he’ll have to get faster still.
“Here, sushi is like fast food,” says Lee. “The customer doesn’t want to wait.”
Kim is confident he has what it takes to become a sushi chef. Once he has his diploma, he’ll work in a sushi restaurant for a few years before striking out on his own.
“I love making food, especially sushi,” says Kim. “I think I can become a good chef with a creative mind.”
Kim even knows what he’ll call his establishment, Kanemoto, his traditional Japanese name.
To find out more about the sushi chef program at Central College, go to www.centralcollege.ca/sushi.