Japanese Sushi Chef Opens Female-Staffed Restaurant to Combat Sexism in Her Industry
In case you haven’t noticed, the culinary world is pretty male-dominated in most of the world. Cooking is “women’s work” while it’s menial labor. At the level where you can start making lots of money and becoming famous from it, cooking suddenly becomes the purview of men.
Most of the celebrity chefs you can name are likely men. Hell, Masterchef Junior (my favorite cooking show!) is in its fourth season right now, and this is the first time that it’s ever had a female judge. It’s no different in Japan, where making sushi is considered a masculine skill. However, one young sushi chef – 29-year-old Yuki Chizui – is hoping to change all that. She has opened a sushi restaurant called Nadeshiko Sushi in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, and its staff is entirely female.
Akihabara is pretty much the geek capital of Tokyo, so if you visit Japan to satiate your love of anime or manga, Nadeshiko Sushi would be the perfect place to grab something to eat as you’re getting your otaku on. The restaurant is inspired by its location. Its motto, which hangs on the wall, is “fresh and kawaii“, and there are pictures of Chizui all over the place as a manga character. Meanwhile, nadeshiko is a type of flower – a pink carnation that symbolizes the beauty and grace of the “ideal” Japanese woman.
Chizui’s career trajectory, and those of the women in her employ, is an interesting one. Not even thirty, Chizui already has a decade of sushi-making under her belt, but she didn’t take a traditional path, having learned the basics at a chain of sushi restaurants after deciding against a career as a designer, before taking a skills test and opening Nadeshiko five years ago. The last man to work at Nadeshiko left three years ago, and since then, the place has been entirely female-staffed.
Plenty of customers, both native and tourist alike, are happy to see Nadeshiko thrive. However, haters gonna hate, and they often get men coming in solely to give them crap. Sushigaters? According to The Guardian, Chizui doesn’t let stuff like that affect her, or the restaurant. She says:
They show up from time to time, but I just regard them as fools. We do a good job here, but there are younger staff who still have a lot to learn. Every sushi restaurant has its own style and flavour, depending on how they cook and prepare the rice, which fish they select, and so on. And like everyone else, we have our own style.
Many of the women in her employ are younger chefs that have completed a course at Tokyo Sushi Academy, where only one-fifth of the students are female, and Chuzui is offering them an opportunity to learn and grow in their field – one they might not be afforded at many other places. The attitude of certain sushi professionals illuminates why.
Kazuyoshi Ono, son of Jiro Ono, whose three-Michelin star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro is the subject of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, has been quoted as saying:
The reason is because women menstruate. To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle, women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.
Other myths that exist in Japan with regard to why women wouldn’t make good sushi chefs are that women’s higher core body temperature adversely affects fresh ingredients, or that their use of cosmetics or perfume interferes with their sense of smell. Chizui doesn’t have time for this kind of ignorance, saying:
We don’t wear perfume or nail varnish, and apply just enough makeup to let diners know that we’re making an effort to be presentable. Not to do so would be rude.
She also believes that the food can and should speak for itself:
That’s the best way to answer our critics … to keep proving to our customers that we can make good sushi.
It’s funny. Just the other day I was telling friends that Tokyo is on my bucket list of awesome cities to visit, and that I might have wanted to save the funds to make a well-in-advance reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Now, though? I think that getting fresh and kawaii sushi from Nadeshiko Sushi is the much better bet.
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