Q&A with Andrea Fazzari on Sushi Shokunin

Note: this interview originally appeared in my regular newsletter. You can sign up for it here.

If you’ve followed my blog slash media empire over the years, you’ll know very well that I play act at being an author/photographer.

Andrea Fazzari does it for real.

A multi-award winner for writing (through her previous book Tokyo New Wave) and photography (including a James Beard), Andrea has accomplishments, skills and insights that I can only dream of.

Her fascinating journey has taken her from Fashion PR to photography to writing, through stops in New York, Italy, Hong Kong, France, Thailand, Spain and now Japan.

Perhaps most crucially, Andrea’s two decade-plus career has led to deep connections throughout the culinary world. Most chefs, including many Itamae, are notoriously private individuals. That makes media profiles difficult, but Andrea has managed to forge relationships despite that.

About Sushi Shokunin

Andrea’s latest book, Sushi Shokunin, was released in September 2020 but I found it recently during my regular “spend hours googling for any sushi books I hadn’t yet read” initiative.

The leather bound book is published by Assouline, a heavyweight in the coffee table book industry. It’s ostensibily 20 profiles of 20 Itamae from around the world, but in reality it’s a love letter to the industry and the chefs that make it hum.

Apart from the beautiful pictures and deep dives, I was fascinated by the logistics behind the entire operation: how Andrea managed to connect with these people inside and outside the sushiya, how she chose the Itamae she profiled and where the industry is going in the future.

You can buy the book yourself here. For reference, the 20 Shokunin profiled are as follows:

* Takashi Saito (Sushi Saito, Tokyo)
* Takaaki Sugita (Nohonbashi Kakgaracho Sugita, Tokyo)
* Yushihiko Mitani (Mitani, Shibuya)
* Katsu Nakaji (Hatsune, Tokyo)
* Koji Kimura (Sushi Kimura, Tokyo)
* Harutaka Takahashi (Harutaka, Tokyo)
* Masahiro Yoshitake (Sushi Yoshitake, Tokyo)
* Hidefumi Namba (Sushi Namba Hibiya, Tokyo)
* Masamichi Amamoto (Higashiazabu Amamoto, Tokyo)
* Yuichi Arai (Sushi Arai, Tokyo)
* Kazuhiro Yui (Kizushi, Tokyo)
* Terukuni Obana (Sushi Obana, Gunma)
* Isao Amano (Tenzushi, Kokura)
* Nobuhiro Sakanishi (Chikamatsu, Fukuoka)
* Yusuke Seguchi (Kikuzushi, Fukuoka)
* Kazuo Morita (Kazuo Morita, Kanazawa)
* Takayoshi Yamaguchi (Sushidokoro Mekumi, Nonoichi City)
* Junya Kudo (Sushi Ikko, Hokkaido)
* Keiji Nakazawa (Sushi Sho, Honolulu)
* Edowan Yoshida (Yoshino, New York – my review here)

Without further adieu, my discussion with Andrea…

On how Andrea decided who to feature

Given the type of book I had envisioned, I decided in advance with my publisher that twenty would be a great number. However because I had approximately thirty-eight shokunin in mind from which to choose the final twenty, it was challenging to narrow down the list! Each shokunin was ultimately chosen based on style, reputation and excellence, plus balance: how he would fit into the book overall. Only two were excluded from consideration for their own privacy reasons.

On the incredible access that Andrea had

Living in Tokyo, I have developed solid relationships over time. Slowly I met more and more shokunin, and many of them introduced me to other shokunin. Because I had also published a book about chefs before this one – Tokyo New Wave – I was already involved in the Japanese culinary world.

On if the many meetings with Shokunin ‘outside work’ was critical

Yes, absolutely. Getting to know the shokunin in their personal lives, learning about their childhoods, backgrounds and life philosophies was and is crucial to me. Their humanity is what interests me most and is also what informs their approach to their craft.

On if sushiya have changed since Andrea moved to Japan in 2015

They have not changed markedly since 2015. Of course the pandemic itself has negatively impacted dining around the world, so in 2020 tourism was completely reduced in Japan as in other countries.

The future of Shokunin

Note: For additional context, I asked Andrea the following: “For instance, if you were writing this book 10 or 20 years from now, do you think there would be more shokunin featured from outside Japan (current book 2/20)? Or any women shokunin profiled? [this article about gender diversity in sushi caught my attention?”

I featured a fine female Edomae sushi shokunin – Fumie Takeuchi – in my book Tokyo New Wave. Part of my interview with her is included in her chapter. She is an extremely independent person and an outlier – she trained with a legendary and forward-thinking shokunin who felt there was no reason to discriminate against women in the sushi world. [There are a number of ‘reasons’ for this historic discrimination which I won’t go into here.] She is ambitious and self-made in the sense that she did not not inherit her sushiya from her father or husband. Her rigorous professional training was the same as that of her male counterparts; she is well-respected in the sushi world. I consider her to be a pioneer.

The article (above) mentions trainees. There are three female apprentices I can think of off the top of my head who are training with top masters. More and more sushi shokunin, generally under the age of 50, are open to and actively fostering female talent. So, yes, in ten years I expect to see more female-owned fine sushiyas (am I not referring to kawaii “sushi cafés” in Akihabara)

Andrea’s secret to Photography and the beauty of Sushi

As far as a secret, I cannot say that I have one. I have long endeavored to capture people, moments, food and landscapes from my personal perspective. Light is definitely key! I will continue to capture Japan in my next book which should be released sometime in late 2022._

_Without question, the aesthetics of sushi and the sushi world in general – especially the design found in all aspects of a sushiya – contribute to sushi’s allure and expanding popularity. They are poignantly beautiful and often breathtaking!

This interview has been condensed for space.

You can read more about Andrea on her website here. Her regular musings and interviews can be found on her blog here.

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