Culver sushi chef demonstrates the food’s artistry

CULVER – Sushi anyone? This American ethnic dining craze has increased in popularity as pre-packaged examples have become available in grocery stores. To experience this culinary treat live and fresh, however, you only have to go to Lakehouse Grill in Culver on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evenings, when sushi is available either as a part of the meal or as a separate dining experience at the restaurant’s sushi bar.

Enter artist Tina Parè, a professional Sushi Chef (say that ten times quickly). She has been a sushi chef for nine years, 3 and a half of them at Lakehouse Grill. She gave a class Saturday for some Veterans Therapeutic Art Center members, who thoroughly enjoyed the introduction to this traditional Japanese art.

How does an artist become a sushi chef? What do pencil drawings have to do with sushi? Nine years ago she applied for a job as a dishwasher at City Tavern in Culver, which has since closed. She wanted to support her artistic endeavors. Owner Larry Surrisi surprised her by pulling a chef’s knife from its sheath, holding it up in front of her, and asking mysteriously “What do you think of this?”

“I’m intrigued,” she replied, wondering what would happen next.
He proceeded to explain that he needed a sushi chef, and that she could be trained to fill the bill. The key to sushi making, he explained, is the presentation—thus, her artistic ability. Training came in the person of Surrisi’s mother Sakai Surrisi, full Japanese. Her training was extensive and challenging, as she evaluated Parè’s results with, “That good,” or “That no good.”

When City Tavern closed, Parè moved to Lakehouse Grill, which has a traditional sushi bar and dining area. The definition of sushi, said Parè, is that it contains rice. Beyond that, anything goes.
“Once you know the rules,” she said, “there are no rules. You can put anything in it.”

“Anything” involves different meats such as raw fish—tuna, salmon, etc., and cooked meats such as shrimp, crab, blackened chicken, or steak. Meat is then paired with various vegetables, or you can have vegetarian sushi.

Preparation is intricate. For example, all rice is not alike. Minute rice is not called for here.

“There are only two places that produce sushi rice,” said Parè, “Japan and California.”

She showed the VTAC members how to flat - ten the rice and roll it up in seaweed mats with its various meats and vegetables.

Maki is the roll of sushi which is then cut into round bites. Other Japanese items which are frequently found at a sushi bar include traditional nigiri—balls of rice with meats (usually fish) around the outside and sashimi—cuts of fish on a plate with no rice (and therefore not sushi).

The creative sushi chef adapts to her clientele by, for example, offering traditional American beef such as steak as a sushi ingredient. Saturday’s class was coordinated by the culinary arts instructor for VTAC— Veteran’s Therapeutic Art Center, Inc.—Jerry Nikitas. VTAC is a Plymouth-based not-for-profit organization which is rapidly expanding to meet the needs of military veterans and their families.

As for Chef Parè, when asked for a summary of her feelings about sushi, she said: “I am honored that people want me to make their food.”