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.
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.
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.