According to the Star, there are only three female sushi chefs in Toronto because of a series of age-old beliefs about how the Japanese culinary art must be executed:
Women’s hands are too warm to handle raw fish or sushi rice. Their perfume, makeup and lotions interfere with the food. Hormonal fluctuations wreak havoc on delicate Japanese food.
As silly as those reasons sound, they apparently still prevent women from advancing in the field. Mina Makimine, the chef at the Japanese consul general’s office in Forest Hill, says that her colleagues talk about “the biological differences which cause women, during their monthly cycles, to fall into different states that affect the delicate and sophisticated form of Japanese cooking.” Shoko Sakiyama, a female sous-chef at Edo-ko near St. Clair West and Spadina, adds that back in Osaka, many female chefs gave up their careers after marriage to take care of the house.
The chefs do say that Japan is now more progressive when it comes to accepting women in sushi schools (it also helps that the country lifted a ban on women working past 10 p.m. in 1999). The article also says that the city’s new generation of Japanese restaurant owners don’t care about the sex of their chefs as long as the sushi is good.
The New York Times profiled female sushi chefs back in 2002 and mentioned the same three beliefs regarding warm hands, perfume and makeup. That piece estimates (this is 2002 we’re talking about) that there are at least six female sushi chefs in New York City, nine in Los Angeles and about 200 in Japan. NPR did a similar story a year earlier.
Since it takes a good 10 years to train as a sushi chef, we’re wondering how many more female chefs are now working in those cities. But considering eight years have passed and the Star is still echoing the “things are slowly changing” message that the Times did in ’02, it’s going to be a very slow progression.