I once used to think that Japanese restaurants were owned and run by Japanese or Japanese -Americans. That changed a few years when we took our daughter to dinner at the Ichiban. She had studied Japanese in college and asked the waitress in Japanese about one of the items on the menu. ” I’m sorry” was the reply, ” I don’t speak Japanese.”
” Oh, you don’t ?”
” No, I’m Korean.”
Ichiban , we learned , was owned and operated by a Korean family and we later found that this was true of several other ‘Japanese’ restaurants in this part of New Jersey. Not that surprising since the Japan and Korea are neighbors and have a shared history. We didn’t really care since the sushi at Ichiban was good, very good.
Now, there seems to be another change in progress. Three of the Japanese restaurants in the area seem to be run by ethnic Chinese. Not only that, one of the sushi chefs is not Japanese, not Korean, not Chinese ; he’s Indonesian.This is a bit of a shocker. Sushi chefs I thought had to be Japanese. After all it wasn’t that long ago that we were told that Japanese women could not be sushi chefs since their body temperature was supposedly slightly higher than that of Japanese males and this would affect the sushi they prepared . Those standards must have fallen by the wayside since then !
So does the change in ownership affect the quality of the food ? We’ve had sushi prepared by the Indonesian chef and it is just as good as that prepared by any other. Of the three Chinese -run Japanese restaurants, the food has improved markedly at one, is about the same at the other and is absolutely putrid at the third. All of which I think underscores the fact that ethnicity is not a factor in food preparation. As Anthony Bourdain has pointed out in one of his books, many restaurant kitchens in New York City are staffed by Mexicans from the province of Puebla. Whether the food is French or Italian or Japanese what matters is how skilled the cook is , not where he comes from.