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Answer by Kaz Matsune, founder, business owner, speaker, author, sushi program designer at Breakthrough:
Here are some restaurant etiquette rules in sushi and Japanese kitchens.
Say “good morning” at the beginning of the shift. No matter what time of the day your shift starts, you always greet by saying “ohayo gozai masu,” good morning in Japanese. This is common practice at restaurants in Japan, as well as in the entertainment industry. In the beginning, I felt weird saying “good morning” at 3 p.m., and after a while, I got used to it, and it just became natural. Why and when this rule started is unclear, though, some say the word “ohayo” signifies the beginning.
Arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes before your shift time. If your shift starts at 10 a.m., you are expected to be ready, fully dressed in your uniform, have all your knives and tools out, finished going to the bathroom, and start working at 10 a.m. sharp. Working in a kitchen is a battle against time. There is no room to sit around and spend time doing things you could have done before your shift. Every second counts. This leads to the third rule ...
Never sharpen your knife during your shift. Working in a kitchen is like going to a battle, and your knife is one of the most important weapons, like a gun to a soldier. How can you fight when your weapon is not ready? In a battlefield, that is a matter of life and death. In a kitchen, a dull knife means you are sacrificing the overall quality of the dishes and not performing at your optimum level, a sign other chefs see as a lack of discipline. Taking care of your tools is an important part and fundamental practice among all Japanese chefs. As such, you should sharpen your knife before or after—and never during—your shift. Also, you are expected to have your own sharpening stone(s) because of wear and tear from the usage, which greatly affects the end result.
There are some secret words among sushi chefs. Perhaps the need arose from as a courtesy to customers, and it may be that the Japanese culture is more about hiding than revealing. Sushi chefs have developed some secret words only used at a sushi bar. The word “aniki” (older brother) refers to older ingredients, and “otõto” (younger brother) means fresher ingredients. Be assured that aniki does not mean “old, bad, and not servable.” It’s older compared with other “fresh” fish.
Remove your apron upon entering the bathroom. As a gesture for cleanliness and hygiene, a Japanese chef is taught to remove his apron when entering the bathroom, either leaving it in the kitchen or some specified location away from the customers’ view, nicely folded, like a perfectly executed origami.
Say “knife” when walking with a knife in a kitchen. When walking in a kitchen with a knife, you are to hold it behind your back, blade facing away, saying (loud enough for other chefs to notice, but not customers), “Coming down with a knife.” It alarms other chefs and protects them from a possibility of running into you by accident. The knife holding posture also prevents you from cutting, in case someone run into you from the front.
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