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The Zen of Fish By Trevor Corson

The Education of Today’s Sushi Chef

Following an injury that extinguished her soccer avocation, twenty-year old Kate Murray found herself in search of her next big love. Sushi helped her body recover and nightly visits to the sushi bar lightened her spirits. Soon she began thinking about sushi in a professional way: as an opportunity to parlay to others the joy she got out of the sushi experience. It could also end her string of dead end jobs. So says her biographer of this point of her life, Trevor Carson, in his new book, The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi from Samurai to Supermarket.

Kate matriculates at the California Sushi Academy in Hermosa Beach in the summer of 2005. The academy, run by sushi giant Toshi Sugira, accepted anyone willing to learn and to participate in twelve weeks of instruction and 100 hours of internship. This method of training would circumvent the standard five year commitment most Japanese would have to endure to become sushi chefs.

Murray was ready. The problem was, the school was not ready for her. Kate was one of three women in her class, and only one of two to finish. She found herself wilting under the job’s physical demands and the psychological abuse of Zoran, the Academy instructor who negated everything she tried. (His criticisms were not ill-founded…Kate is the only one who lets her knives rust on the first day). The tension in the book becomes whether Kate will survive Zoran.

Corson follows Kate’s story because of what he calls the inherent sexism in the sushi chef industry. The common myth he says, is that women’s hands are too warm to make good sushi. He brings up the difficulties Japanese women have even attending sushi bars alone. While Kate struggles to chop her cucumbers in the right shape or form her nigiri fast enough, Corson brings to light how important it is for her to succeed. He also follows Kate’s trajectory after the school and its incipient difficulties.

Corson’s Zen of Fish is his second book length examination of things marine. His first book, The Secret Life of Lobsters, not only introduced us to the hows and whys of coastal Maine’s crustacean population, but to the industry as a whole and its effects on families and scientists. That book introduced us to the lives of many. In this book, we have only one. If Murray’s progress through the course is the major highway of the book, Corson takes several of the off-ramps afforded by the trip: the biology of sushi’s favorite components such as eel, yellowfin,and octopus, the history of sushi and its migration to the US, and its rise as the hipster food of choice. Corson lived in Japan for three years allowing him to appreciate sushi’s finer qualities and the Japanese language and elaborate on this for the reader. This book is not as drama driven as your average women’s sports story but Corson has worked hard to give that effect and you will learn tons in the interim.

The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi From Samurai to Supermarket by Trevor Corson
Harper Collins Publishers
June 1, 2007
Hardcover, $24.95
ISBN: 978-06-088350-8
372 pages