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Desperately Seeking Sushi

Genko the Singing Sushi Chef Demonstrates His Craft

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Andrew Patner got to hear the sushi chef sing "You are my sunshine," but the Kotty brothers, Kotty and Little Kotty, came too late because they had been trout fishing.

The sushi chef, wearing a regulation paper hat, stood behind the counter with the tuna fish and sang into a gold microphone:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are gray.

You'll never know dear, how much I love you.

Please don't take my sunshine away.

The chef, Genko, put down his microphone and began the lesson in making sticky rice. He teaches a class once a month at the Shiroi Hana Restaurant at 3242 N. Clark. Patner, a writer and boulevardier--boulevardiers stroll down boulevards and eat here and there, talking about the affairs of the day--recalled his month-long stay in Japan where he went to a bar and sang along with an eight-track tape, as is the custom. He chose, "My Way" and sang, "And now the end is near, it's time to face the final curtain . . ." Two men complimented him on his diction, he said.

"Any Japanese rice will do," Genko said. He explained Japanese rice is short in grain and has more tale. Patner explained tale makes the rice more glutinous. Genko said to rinse the rice in cold water for 45 minutes. "You lose the vitamins but it gets shinier and it gets better." He said to cook it in a "'Gas Magic machine for 20 minutes." Patner explained that a Gas Magic machine is an electric rice cooker.

Genko supplemented his English with body gestures. The students asked questions using body gestures. Everybody was playing charades. The next lessons were in making sushi vinegar and sushi rolls. We spread a piece of seaweed paper on a bamboo mat, made a pinecone shape out of the rice, spread it lengthwise, and put on strips of cucumber and wasabe, the hot green sauce which Patner said is "What makes it happen." We rolled the mat over. My roll looked like a banana. Patner's was better but still immature. The class handed their rolls to cut in pieces and he treated them with respect.

When Genko announced the next lesson would be on the California roll, the class, who mostly lived in the 43rd and 44th wards, cheered. Meanwhile, Patner and I were stuffing ourselves with sticky rice. There was rice in our ears and hair and when the time came to make the lox, tuna, and eel sushi, I was too full to learn. Patner hung in there and kept rolling. His shrimp sushi looked like it had been run over.

Then we had a break. Genko and the waitress sang the famous "Song of Sushi Chef's" in Japanese. Here is the translation printed on the menu:

(Man)

I don 't mind if my wife crys for my goal

What's that? Do you have any complaints?

Rain on the side streets in Hozenji

Is it a shower in Naiwa or an overture at the theater

"Can you see my bright future?"

"Can you see my bright future?"

Yes, I'm foolish

I drink a lot of sake and make girls cry

But everything is for geting a head

Look, look I'm gonna be the best singing sushi chef in America

You know. Ohama.

How terrible face you have

Where is sake? Sake, get me some more! Sake!

(Woman)

Without me he can't do anything

I must not cry even when going through hard times

He will be a great man

I love this man

He has a big dream

I'm falling in love with you

Do what ever you want to do, fool around drink sake

If you become a best singing sushi chef

I'll come over everything and hard situation

(M&W) After a bitter winter, flowers blossom.

(M) This is my sweet wife

(W) You are my life

(M&W) Spring will visit us

Genko held up a sea bass. "The eyes must be clear and the gills red," Patner said. The waitress passed around the uni. "Uni is sea urchin," Patner said. "They call uni the test fish in Japan. If the uni is really fresh, everything else will be. It looks like human tongue."

Two fat bikers were sitting at a table eating sushi. Patner said usually six or seven come in Shiroi Hana and eat at the bar--30 pieces each--at a time. The chef collapses from exhaustion when they leave.

The strapping Kotty boys come in. They had been fishing for trout in the Ontonagon River in the Upper Peninsula. Little Kotty said he caught 15 walleyes and the largest perch he'd ever seen. Kotty said he lost count. Little Kotty, the taller of the two, is a theatrical lighting designer from New York. His older brother Kotty is a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Chicago. They ordered melon.

Patner, irritable the Kotty boys were being interviewed, turned to the Daily Northwestern reporter next to him and gave her all his good quotes. She was also doing a story though it was just a coincidence two reporters were at the same sushi lesson. Patner was probably telling her how it's the wasabe that "makes it happen" and how his father Marshall, a famous boulevardier himself, went right to the fish market when his plane landed in Japan and ate whale.

After class, Genko sat down and said he became a singing sushi chef when a customer suggested it. He learned sushi making in Japan. He worked the Gas Magic machine for three years and then became a chef and had five stitches in one hand and eight in the other from using the sushi knife. His wife works in the restaurant but prefers not to sing with him. He said he doesn't have children because "I know how to make sushi. I don't know how to make children." He said sushi is oishi, tasty. He uses only flying fish, fish that are flown in to the wholesale fish store near O'Hare. He told a secret, the Japanese have to import their uni from California. Genko wore a pink striped tie and said his name means spring of happiness and two of his favorite restaurants are Morton's steak house and Nantucket Cove.

When the class members left, the waitresses had to sweep up the sticky rice from under their seats. Genko said good-bye, spelled "doitashimcshite," which he said is really "Don't touch my mustache."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.

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