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March 14, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Speaking Sushi at Shinobi

The sushi at Shinobi Sushi Lounge on Vivian Street is to die for, and leaves many a foodie fantasising late into the night. It combines Japanese training and traditional cuisine with New Zealand-born staff, as well as some modern twists. New Zealander Jeremy Wilson is chef and one of Shinobi’s owners. Salient sat down with him for a chat.

How long have you worked in the hospitality industry?

I’ve just chalked up ten years in hospo—I’ve washed dishes, waited tables, poured beers, baked scones. My first five years were predominantly tending bar, then I moved into cooking.  I went back to bar for a year while looking for a site for Shinobi, and we’ve been open since July 2009.

What kind of training was necessary to become a bona fide sushi chef? How did you do it?

I got a working holiday visa to Japan, then went round every sushi bar I could find, begging everyone to teach me.  After a couple of months, I found a guy who was prepared to train me, but who couldn’t afford to pay me at all.  That was fine with me. I worked in the sushi bar for free each day, then went off and worked in a Ramen noodle place in the evenings for wages. Nearly a year of 16-20 hour days later, my body was shattered, but I’d learnt all I was able to in the time the Japanese government granted me.

What did it take to be taken seriously, as a Pakeha working with Japanese food?

Sometimes there’s no way—some people won’t accept a white guy making sushi.  I prefer to let my food speak for me. I find that the people concerned about a Kiwi making Japanese food are often the ones that understand the least about it. The Japanese customers at the counter don’t have any complaints.

Do you have a similar level of experience to, say, another chef in another sushi place in Wellington?

I’m not too sure what everyone else has done, but as far as I know, I’m the only guy in town that’s trained in a real sushi bar in Japan. We’re the only place that offers counter seating in front of the chef, and made-to-order style sushi, as opposed to Kaiten (conveyor belt) or takeout (made in advance) sushi.

Is it easy to find good fish in Wellington? Where are the best places to go?

It’s easy to get good fish, as long as you know what to look out for.  Fish selection is the most important aspect, and takes the longest to learn, so I go to the markets and look for myself so that I can make a decision of what’s going to taste best each day. Wellington Trawling on Cuba Street have a pretty good selection of white fish; otherwise, Solander Maritime (for game fish) and Mount Cook Alpine Salmon have great, consistent products and do online ordering.

What is the order of service?

There’s no set order to anything at a sushi bar—you can order what you like, when you like. I usually recommend sashimi to start, since it gives people an opportunity to try a range of the days fish, and decide what they like (or don’t like), which can affect what they order later. Wine matches are hard in a sushi bar—you only get one or two mouthfuls of each thing, and so I prefer people to drink whatever they’d like. I personally recommend our Margaritas.

What’s your favourite thing on the menu at the moment?

I got into sushi on the traditional stuff—that’s still my favourite. The more you learn about sushi, the more you appreciate the simplicity of nigiri (hand-formed) sushi and sashimi.  My perennial favourites are tuna and ikura (salmon roe). I’ve been using Mount Cook Alpine Salmon for about a year and it’s absolutely stunning.

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  1. Emeline says:

    That iinsght’s perfect for what I need. Thanks!

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