Chefs Andy Matsuda (left) and Hiroyuki Terada compete with a sushi-preparing robot in a speed contest.

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

Andy Matsuda, principal and CEO of the Sushi Chef Instititute, a vocational training school in Torrance, has started two new projects and held a showcase event on June 29.

COVID-19 is easing and the restaurant business, which had been forced to take a leave of absence or reduce operations for more than a year, is rapidly regaining its vitality. On the other hand, the industry is facing a labor shortage.

Matsuda said, “We get inquiries. They are desperately looking for chefs. Then I decided to start a matchmaking service that connects sushi chefs and restaurants.”

In addition to his Sushi Chef Agency, he has started the Blue Fin Tuna Catering Service for VIPs, which specializes in the high-class blue fin tuna.

“By using one whole tuna, there is no waste and you can enjoy high-class tuna everywhere,” he says.

On his website, a video of a party where Matsuda’s team provides catering at a customer’s home tells all. The possibility of sushi developing as a business in the U.S. is dynamic and limitless, he says.

At the showcasing event, a 4-foot-long natural tuna caught off the coast of Ensenada three days earlier, with an estimated weight of 60 pounds, was dismantled in front of about 50 invited guests. The head was dropped with a large kitchen knife and a hammer; then the tuna was cut into parts. The carved meat was sent to stations to fix for nigiri and carpaccio, and the meat around the middle bone was scraped off with a spoon and handed to the customers as a nakaochi hand-roll on the spot.

Almost all of the guests stared wide-eyed at the series of events and pointed their smartphones for pictures. Some of them continued to shoot videos as if they were eating, perhaps to post them on their SNS pages.

Terada makes the initial cuts into a freshly caught tuna.

The highlight was the bone marrow. Master chef Matsuda cut the thick middle bone into pieces and scooped out the marrow from the inside with a small spoon. It was quite a surprise to know that there is a transparent jelly-like pith in the core of the tuna’s bone that is edible, and that there is a very small amount even from a 4-foot-long tuna.

Only three small glasses of “Tuna Bone Marrow Shooter” were prepared by Matsuda, who fixed the bone marrow with apple cider vinegar, salty koji, lemon juice, orange juice, and sake in a shot glass. Three lucky guests were chosen through a lottery and a competitive game for tasting. One of them, a food blogger named Sylvia, said, “The texture was like Jello!” with her eyes shining.

Chef Hiroyuki Terada, who is a star of the popular YouTube channel “Diaries of a Master Sushi Chef,” assisted Matsuda. In addition to the people from the institute, sponsors such as Kikkoman, Hakutsuru, Otafuku Sauce, Treha, Bluefina, and Riviera Seafood Club also set up booths to liven up the event.

Riviera Seafood Club is a family business of the Ito siblings, who deliver seafood directly from the sea to homes. Hiramasa (yellowtail kingfish) was provided at their booth. In addition to sake, Hakutsuru provided a dance performance by a woman dressed in kimono. She represented the character of the newly released cup sake named “Chika.”

The event heated up with a “Nigiri Battle” in which Matsuda, Terada, and Sushi Robot competed for the fastest sushi-making. Guests were also entertained by a sushi-eating contest in which chefs and a Japanese woman competed to eat as many sushi as possible,

Students show off their sushi creations.

Although the guests were still wearing masks, they realized that their daily lives were gradually returning to normal from the pandemic. Unlike in the past, I learned that if I throw a blue fin tuna party for an occasion like a family wedding or a company party, it would please everyone. It’s a big difference from the old days when many people did not know about sushi. Times have changed, although I forgot to ask how much a tuna party would cost.

The two young chefs at a station were brothers from Canada graduating the institute on the day after the event. They will return to Canada to work as sushi chefs. None of the photographs of the active graduates posted in the hallway at the Sushi Chef Institute represent the atmosphere of “Edomae” (Tokyo in the Edo era). I am delighted that sushi is becoming loved all over the world, thanks to the efforts by pioneer Japanese chefs who stepped out of Japan.

Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo

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