Exclusive: The Knives Of Uchi Sushi

Image courtesy Alan Brooks

Chef Masazumi Saio with some of his knives.

by Alan Brooks

Every day Masazumi Saio (or simply, Masa) carries a worn canvas tool bag to work. You wouldn’t know to look at it, but inside that bag is a collection a beautiful, razor-sharp knives that Masa uses to create some of the best sushi in the southwestern United States. Masa is a chef at Uchi Sushi, a Michelin Star-rated Japanese restaurant in Austin, Texas that is owned by renowned sushi chef Tyson Cole. Masa is originally from Osaka, Japan and has been working at Uchi since it opened in 2003 and today he has been kind enough to show me some of his knives and tell me a little about them.

Image Courtesy Alan Brooks

A Deba knife, given to Masa by Tyson Cole.

Masa started as a dishwasher at Uchi and apprenticed under Tyson to become a chef. Tyson also gave him several of the knives he uses today. One in particular, an all-purpose deba knife, was passed down to Masa from Tyson who, in turn, received it from one of his senseis. The knife is heavy, with a thick spine that’s covered with dents, a few small chips in the edge, and a cracked wood handle that appears to be held together with blue painter’s tape. Masa tells me that he uses it to chop the heads off of fish and cut hard vegetables.

Image courtesy Alan Brooks.

Chef Masa’s Yanagi knives.

It’s not his favorite knife though. His favorite, he says, is a tanto-style yanagi (slicing knife) and I can see why. It’s light despite its 10″ length and the single-grind edge is razor sharp. Masa says that he sharpens his knives whenever they need it with a ceramic sharpening-stone that he keeps at home. Nothing fancy, just ceramic and patience to get exactly the right edge. He also uses a wood cutting block. Plastic boards, he says, are ok for chopping vegetables, but are too hard for the high-carbon steel slicing knives that he uses for fine work.

Image courtesy Alan Brooks

Chef Masa’s Sasakiri knife.

In addition to those, he has two 12″ yanagi knives, another deba, and a slicing/filleting knife. They range in quality and price from a $200 Suisin (which he says is perfectly adequate), to a $300 Masamoto, to a $500-$600 Sakai. He also has a small sasakiri knife that he uses to carve decorations in bamboo leaves. Really though, he says, an aspiring sushi chef can get away with only a deba, a filleting knife, and a yanagi.

Image courtesy Alan Brooks

Chef Masa demonstrates the proper way to hold a Yanagi.

Those three knives, plus many years of training under a master sushi chef, some salmon roe, and raw waygu beef are all you need to make your own world-class sushi. If that seems like too much work you can always just order a six-course omakase (chef’s choice) meal for two at Uchi for about $100 (including a carafe of hot sake) and Chef Masa will create one of the most amazing meals you will ever eat.

comments

  1. Jim says:

    I get that those are traditionally styled knives but it seems as though those handles would be a concern as far as cleanliness goes.

    1. Kevin A. says:

      -eye roll- that’s what your immune system is for.

    2. Aharon says:

      Interesting comment. Wood has a natural anti-fungicide or some other element in it to keep germs from living in it and spreading. I used to wonder about the big Chinese cutting blocks made from wood and how they wouldn’t be major germ spreaders. Obviously the excess remains of cut up animals should be wiped off regularly. Wood handled knives have been used for centuries or longer. Modern scientists and health officials have not called for an end to the use of wood handles in manufacturing knives.

      1. JAS says:

        This. I have a couple round, thick -18-inch butcher block cutting boards that I’ve owned for almost 40 years. Never a problem. Every so often we hit them with Tilex rinse them well and air dry. that’s it.

        There was a study done on wood vs. plastic boards a while back The wood boards won. Bacteria does not like wood for some reason

  2. jwm says:

    It’s food prep. But it’s also art.

  3. Arod529 says:

    Oh, no! A dude walking to work carrying hundreds of knives! Whatever are we going to do!

    1. jwm says:

      Don’t try to mug him comes to mind.

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Exclusive: The Knives Of Uchi Sushi

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