What If Your Sushi Chef Isn’t Japanese, or Even Asian?

Fie Kruse from The Story of Sushi

Photo: Danish sushi chef Fie Kruse, who is depicted in Trevor Corson’s book The Story of Sushi, prepares dinner for a customer. Photo by Trevor Corson.

Say you walk into a sushi bar in America hungry for an authentic Japanese meal and you’re faced with a choice. There’s an empty seat in front of a chef who looks Japanese. There’s another empty seat in front of a chef who has blond hair and freckles. Which seat would you choose? What if the choice was between a chef who looks Japanese and one who is African-American?

These questions are fodder for my post this week on the Atlantic’s new Food Channel, which prompted some interesting discussion, and for an article I wrote in the June issue of the Atlantic magazine. There’s also an accompanying narrated slideshow, in which I describe how I got interested in the phenomenon and which features several of the surprisingly numerous non-Asian sushi chefs I’ve encountered. As you can see from their photos, they sure don’t look Japanese.

Indeed, one of the ironies here is that many of these non-Asian sushi chefs are offering an experience that is arguably more authentically Japanese than what a lot of Japanese chefs are offering. Yet these American chefs often told me that their American customers frequently give them the cold shoulder, because they don’t look the part. Would you?