The raw deal: Shinji Tanaka came to Switzerland at the age of 23 determined to become a European-style chef. Today, 27 years later, he has made a name for himself cooking Japanese food instead.

AuteurHays, Kim
Fonction Expat Profile

The successful proprietor of two Japanese restaurants, a sushi bar, and a Japanese-imports shop, 50-year-old Shinji Tanaka works from early morning until midnight handling the small but important details of his business--like buying fish, for example.

"All the fish dealers in Switzerland consider me the most difficult customer they've ever had," admits Tanaka with a smile. "To make sushi, you need perfect fish. So when I opened a sushi bar at Bern's Kramgasse five year ago, I had to order fish from all over the world-Scottish salmon, Philippine tuna, New Zealand grouper, Australian king-fish, and lots of other seafood from less exotic places, too. If I don't think a fish looked good enough, I'd send it back to the dealer--even if we'd already cut into it. And I refused to pay. You can imagine how upset the dealers used to get. 'What is wrong with this fish.' 'Not good enough for sushi,' I would tell them. But my method worked: now they only send me the quality of fish that I want."

The Fishy Art of Sushi

Preparing sushi--raw seafood decorated with ginger, horseradish, or pickles and served with vinegar-flavored rice-is an art. Nigiri-sushi refer to a piece of raw fish served on top of a ball of rice; maki-sushi describes rice that has been filled with vegetables fish or even bits of omelet and rolled up in paper-thin sheets of black algae called nori.

In Japan it takes at least five years to become a sushi cook or "itamae-san". And the most important skill the cook learns is cutting the fish properly. "You need to be able to make on perfect cut to produce a piece of fish that is exactly the shape you want," explains Tanaka. "No pinching, prodding or piecing is allowed--just one cut. The food on the place has to look simple, natural, and beautiful. It's also important to get the combination of colors, shapes, and tastes just right."

Much thought has also gone into the combination of colors and shapes that make up the decor at Tanaka's Kabuki Restaurant, which is located in the Markthalle in Bem. The Mabuki, with its mustard-colored walls, white archids, and dark tableware, is a place of comfortable elegance, and Tanaka himself radiates the same feeling.

Modest beginnings: From Tokyo to Switzerland However, like most chefs, he too began his cooking career in anything but elegance, doing he worst jobs a restaurant kitchen has to offer. "I was born in Tokyo," he says, "And there was nothing I wanted to be more than a European-style cook. So...

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