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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarketby Trevor Corson
Synopses & Reviews
Everything you never knew about sushi — its surprising origins, the colorful lives of its chefs, the bizarre behavior of the creatures that compose it — is revealed in this entertaining documentary account by the author of the highly acclaimed The Secret Life of Lobsters,
When a twenty-year-old woman arrives at America's first sushi-chef training academy in Los Angeles, she is unprepared for the challenges ahead: knives like swords, instructors like samurai, prejudice against female chefs, demanding Hollywood customers — and that's just the first two weeks.
In this richly reported story, journalist Trevor Corson shadows several American sushi novices and a master Japanese chef, taking the reader behind the scenes as the students strive to master the elusive art of cooking without cooking. With the same eye for drama and humor that Corson brings to the exploits of the chefs, he delves into the biology and natural history of the creatures of the sea. He illuminates sushi's beginnings as an Indo-Chinese meal akin to cheese, describes its reinvention in bustling nineteenth-century Tokyo as a cheap fast food, and tells the story of the pioneers who brought it to America. He shows how this unlikely meal is now exploding into the American heartland just as the long-term future of sushi may be unraveling.
The Zen of Fish is a compelling tale of human determination as well as a delectable smorgasbord of surprising food science, intrepid reporting, and provocative cultural history.
"To the uninitiated, few things can be more intimidating than a sushi bar. Though the process of ordering and eating sushi isn't nearly as involved as some would think, it does require a certain amount of knowledge and etiquette to dine properly. Thankfully, Corson (The Secret Life of Lobsters) presents an exhaustive look at sushi and the chefs who prepare it that will go a long way toward instilling confidence. Alternating between the cuisine's history and the key steps in a sushi chef's education, Corson puts the reader in the thick of things a la Michael Ruhlman's Making of a Chef, detailing the laborious process of making rice, the preparation of a myriad of fish and the storied history of the California Roll. Corson covers close to thirty plants and animals over the course of the book, which becomes a bit wearying, but his structure prevents the material from overwhelming readers and his enthusiasm for the topic is infectious-especially when the subject turns to the popularity of sushi in landlocked states or the perils of dealing with mackerel. Given the breadth and scope of the book (a bibliography and source list are included), Corson has created what could be the definitive work on the topic, enabling customers to comfortably and confidently stride into a sushi restaurant and order omakase without trepidation. Corson seems to sense this, as an addendum regarding sushi bar etiquette closes with the admonishment, 'Most experts agree on one thing. Customers who show off their sushi knowledge are tiresome. Chefs appreciate customers who would rather eat sushi than talk about it.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this richly reported documentary Corson, journalist and author of The Secret Life of Lobsters, shadows several American sushi novices as well as a master Japanese chef to give readers an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the elusive art of cooking without cooking.
In The Story of Sushi journalist Trevor Corson provides a lively tour of the culture of sushi in Americaandndash;andndash;from the chefs who prepare sushi to the multifarious creatures that compose it.
He escorts the reader behind the sushi bar, through an extensive threeandndash;month course at the California Sushi Academy in Los Angeles where he spent a semester shadowing the founder of the Academy and a select group of master chefs and their trainees and experienced first hand what's involved in becoming "a naturalist with a knife." In Corson's words, "People see sushi chefs working behind the sushi bar and think that's what they do. Customers never see the many hours of prep work that go into getting the sushi bar set up in the first place. Master sushi chefs require knowledge of anatomy and life cycles of the creatures to know what creatures to serve at what time of year and how to break them down from their natural, whole state. All this happens in the kitchen in the afternoon. I take the reader inside that world and show them the skills required. It's much more than just slicing blocks of fish and making rolls and nigiri."
As the story of the chefs and trainees unfolds, he describes the different types of organisms that compose sushi, their behavior, biology, evolutionary origins, ecological niches, and nutritional properties. He discusses the seasonal progression of the organisms and explores the techniques by which they're harvested, including what's the best time for harvesting and why. He then provides a history of sushi's origins and evolution in Japan and its transplantation to the United States via Los Angeles, and most compellingly, considers the future of sushi in America, revealing why the best sushi chefs of the future will most likely not be Japanese and male.
After reading The Story of Sushi, readers will return to their favorite sushi restaurants equipped with a new sense of wonder at the animals and plants on the plate, and a new expertise in how best to appreciate them.
About the Author
Trevor Corson lived in Japan for three years and speaks fluent Japanese. He has resided in Buddhist temples in Tokyo, studied philosophy in China, and worked on commercial fishing boats off the Maine coast. He has been an award-winning magazine editor and has written on a wide variety of subjects for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Atlantic Monthly, where his first book, The Secret Life of Lobsters, began as an essay that was included in The Best American Science Writing. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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