Categories of Japanese Cuisine You Should Know Before Hiring Japanese Chefs

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Speaking of Japanese cuisine, you may think about sushi, tempura, ramen, and yakitori as representative dishes. However, we need to keep in mind that not every Japanese chef can cook all of them.

In Japan, each restaurant came to specialize in a particular dish: a sushi restaurant serves only sushi, while a ramen restaurant serves only ramen in general. Of course, public eateries and izakaya (a Japanese-style pub) can have a versatile chef and serve a wide range of dishes, including sushi, sashimi, tempura, and yakitori. Yet yakitori served at izakaya cannot be compared to the one served at a specialized restaurant that features the dish.

This article explains categories of Japanese cuisine and what dishes a chef of each specialty can cook so that you can avoid making the mistake of hiring a sushi chef, assuming the applicant is an all-rounder who can cook a wide variety of dishes.

1. What Is Washoku?

“Washoku” is a generic term for dishes cooked in traditional ways with fish, vegetables, and other ingredients produced in Japan and served in the way that the season can be appreciated with the presentation or plates. You can think that traditional Japanese cuisine is called washoku.

Generally, chefs experienced in washoku have learned various techniques of Japanese cuisine, including slicing (for sashimi), simmering, grilling, steaming, deep-frying, and so on. Thus, many of them have skills that can be applied to dishes other than washoku.

2. What is Kaiseki Cuisine?

Kaiseki cuisine is a course meal served to welcome guests with the tastes of Japanese ingredients and each dish is designed to give off the ambience of the season.

A kaiseki chef starts training with the preparation of the ingredients and moves up through different positions; “hassunba” (seasonal appetizers), “yakiba” (grilling fish or meat), “ageba” (deep-frying food like tempura), “mushiba” (steaming savory egg pudding and other dishes), “nikata” (simmering dishes and seasoning the entire course meal), and “itaba” that cooks in front of the guests (like sashimi). Kaiseki chefs who have experienced up to itaba have skills of all the Japanese cuisine techniques, as washoku chefs do. Since kaiseki chefs are also used to serving a course meal, they tend to be appreciated as handy by restaurants.

3. What is Sushi?

Sushi started as a street food provided at stalls in nineteenth-century Tokyo and became a national dish, as refrigerators became widely available. Although some sushi restaurants serve different kinds of meals as well, they still specialize in sushi. When you hire a chef who has been working at a sushi restaurant for a long time, we recommend that you ask what kind of cuisine the applicant has experience with.

4. What is Teppanyaki?

Teppanyaki is a style in which vegetables, meat, and seafood are cooked on an iron griddle. BENIHANA, a restaurant that became famous for the chefs’ rhythmical performance of cooking steak on the iron griddle, led the teppanyaki boom and a lot of teppanyaki restaurants emerged not only in Japan but also overseas.

We can expect that chefs with the experience at a teppanyaki counter are good at entertaining guests with performance and have high communication skills.

5. What is Izakaya?

Izakaya features a casual ambience where customers can enjoy food with drinks.

Each restaurant has different menus, but most of them have basic popular items, like sushi, tempura, and yakitori. A smaller individually owned place has one to two chefs who are in charge of cooking all the dishes. On the other hand, chain restaurants can be equipped with a central kitchen where all you need to do is serve meals already cooked and delivered.

When you recruit a chef who has been working at izakaya, we recommend that you check the size of the restaurant, the process of cooking, and the menu.

6. What is Ramen?

Another national dish along with sushi is ramen. With the large market size, it is not a far-fetched dream to be a millionaire by establishing a ramen chain. Thus, the competition is always intense in the industry with the constant arrival of various new owners, ranging from a former businessperson who loves ramen to chefs specializing in different cuisine. It is said that less than 30% of ramen restaurants are still in business three years after opening.

Many of the ramen restaurants in Japan specialize in ramen and serve limited side dishes like gyoza. Yet ramen chefs include those who transferred from izakaya, washoku restaurants, or French restaurants, so you should ask what kind of menu the applicant can handle from experience, when you hire the person.

7. What is Yakitori?

Yakitori is a style in which you cut various parts of chicken into bite-size pieces and grill them on a skewer. Usually, it is served at a public eatery, such as izakaya that features yakitori, but there are also high-end restaurants that use Binchotan (high-quality charcoal) and regional brands of poultry.

Whereas sushi chefs are supposed to train by “cooking rice for 3 years, making sushi for 8 years,” yakitori chefs are expected to learn “skewering for 3 years, grilling for life.” It is a complex culinary world where it takes 3 years to master the art of skewering so that meat can be cooked evenly and a lifetime to refine the technique of grilling with the right temperature and the right amount of smoke.

8. What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku originates in Korean-style BBQ that uniquely developed in Japan. Since customers grill meat on their own, it may seem that there is not much to do in the kitchen. However, the chef needs to have knowledge and knife skills so that high-quality meat can be utilized as merchandise without wasting any part. The chef also needs to know how to serve meat in the way that the customers’ appetite will be stimulated and be creative to invent new beef dishes.

Each category of Japanese cuisine requires distinct skills. Based on the information above, please consider whether you want to hire a specialized chef for a certain cuisine or a generalist who can handle a wide range of dishes.

9. What If I Have a Problem in Hiring?

“I do not know what my restaurant should feature to attract Japanese chefs.”

“I have an idea of the chefs I am looking for, but I do not know how to find them.”

“We tried to recruit on our own before without success, so we want to find a truly skillful chef this time.”

“Since no staff member speak Japanese, we want to entrust the whole task of hiring Japanese chefs to someone else.”

If you have a problem in recruiting Japanese chefs, feel free to contact us Washoku Agent!

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