She has her knives, and
she knows how to use them.
One helps her slice sashimi in a single, fluid motion.
One helps her clean fish. And one helps her chop, angling
the curve of her arm as she unfurls veggie ribbons and
sets up a marble block with banana leaves luring us with a
creation of seared ahi.
Miki, as the locals know her in Laguna Beach, is a
woman in a man's world: a sushi chef with her own
following and her own art in her own restaurant.
Does she know why this is?
"I like ... to do ... everything," she slowly
says. "I like making. I like pictures. Beautiful
nature. But I'm female. Sometimes ... it was very hard.
... The Japanese guys, they don't like you, so I learn ...
Miss Izumisawa, her formal name, took over a 22-seat
space just more than four years ago along Coast Highway,
shopping for supplies at Henry's Market in Laguna Niguel,
then welcoming customers with seasoned octopus salad,
baked yellowtail cheeks and pepper-crusted salmon. Her
hands work nonstop, she jokes, "25 hours a day."
"I'm no business person; I'm chef," she adds,
fond of excluding articles when she speaks. "My
favorite dishes? So many kinds. It's like my baby ... more
"And U.S. people like BIG fish. I make big."
Where she comes from, Japan, sushi-making by tradition
always has been dominated by the boys. Chefs are required
to keep to a rigorous apprenticeship, where they learn how
fish must always be fresh, how everything is temporal in
their culture of cooking, how to wash rice, how to cut
according to the grain, how to present.
It takes years and years. A trainee can be washing the
floors, sweeping and waiting on tables for months before
he is allowed to practice the simple task of positioning a
shrimp atop the rice.
Only the best - the very best - graduate to work in
Tokyo's exclusive Ginza district – the preferred
meeting place for business executives through the decades.
Miki's teacher, Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurant fame,
taught her some of his secrets at his eatery in Las Vegas.
It's partly why her menus are so exotic, so fun.
At her 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi, indulging is a
celebration to the beat of salsa and reggae. The menus are
rolled. But most regulars prefer the specials, which