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Chef Toshio Suzuki

Chef Suzuki has been sharing his expert advice on how to clean and sanitize fresh fish sent in ice and live fish safely. There are few chefs in New York City who have as deep an understanding of this subject. Fish that is directly from the sea or river is fresh, but if the chef does not know how to prepare it, it is not safe to eat. In some case, sushi chef needs to freeze to kill harmful parasites.

Last two and half years, Chef Suzuki contributed his knowledge and philosophy of Japanese cooking skills and hygiene management to about thirty top chefs of NY's most acclaimed restaurants. On hygiene management, he focused on differences of parasite and/or bacteria in river and ocean and how to clean up fish as well as personal hygiene management. For the Japanese cooking skills, he introduced varieties of Japanese knives and its use. Moreover, he demonstrated how to use Tofu, Tukemono pickles, “Nabe” hot pot, Kombu seaweed and how to clean up fish while it is alive. He carefully mentioned and introduced why Japanese came up with the ideas and technics that were totally different from other western culinary culture, then, how the historical and cultural background affected to improve the Japanese cooking skills.

Chef Suzuki takes an intellectual, spiritual and scientific approach to cooking, as evidenced by his presentation of a master class at the James Beard House about the subtle and important distinctions in pairing particular raw fish with specific vinegars, a pairing that is as sophisticated ( is not more so) than the pairing of food and wine. The result is the harmony of umami, the fifth sense of taste, a savory meaty flavor that is hard to define. Umami can be achieved through the right mix of ingredients.

"Honestly, the reason why I started to do the voluntary work of sharing my knowledge is that I wanted to expand the understanding of the Japanese culture and tradition in NY, in the meantime, I wanted to give something back to NY for my appreciation for my successful business. If my knowledge and skills could be of any help improving the culinary industry, NY which I love the most will be growing its culinary industry to the higher level," Chef Suzuki stated.

Chef Suzuki began his career at the age of 19, under the guidance of Master Chef Nakanori in Tokyo. Originally, he wanted to be a Buddhist monk because he enjoyed studying philosophy (and still does ) but instead he applied his philosophy to his study of Japanese cuisine.

For ten years, Suzuki studied the concept and history of the Edo style of sushi, the modern style that was developed in Edo period in the mid 18th Century. Suzuki then went on to practice the skills of ikezukuri, a form of sashimi presentation where live fish is prepared swiftly and presented to the guest while still alive.

The Zen "膳" in the restaurant's name, an originally Buddhist tenet, refers to health consciousness and is also the name for Japanese plates, personal table and chopsticks. This double meaning is highlighted in the combination of health and the aesthetic presentation in Japanese culinary art that makes eating a fulfilling culture experience.

As he hoped it would be, the clientele became more accustomed to raw fish, Chef Suzuki was able to transition to the true passion. Now at a location that opened in 2000, Suzuki has returned to his root in the traditional Edo style sushi. The best way to experience Sushi Zen is by sitting at the sushi bar. When Suzuki prepares omakase for you, he takes responsibility for your health, happiness and satisfaction.

Sushi is essentially designed with intent to magnify the natural qualities of various ingredients by combining them with delicately flavored rice. In order to maximize the flavor and brighten and pull out the characteristics of each fish or vegetable that is placed on top of sushi rice, it is very important that rice, vinegar, soy sauce, wasabi and fish come together very quickly in chef’s hand and that sushi is served instantly to at guest.

Forget whatever you know about Japanese cuisine. Sushi Zen will take you to new heights of flavor, beauty and originality. A pioneer in introducing sushi to New York, he opened his first iteration of Sushi Zen in 1984, when many Americans – even the most adventurous eaters – had not yet tried raw fish.




Toshio Suzuki April 2011