White-coated instructor Wendi James starts the class with a question: “How many of you have rolled sushi before?”
Only one student raises his hand.
“Everyone thinks it’s really hard, and you might struggle with your first roll, but rest assured, it’s easy to learn,” she says.
As James demonstrates how to make a cucumber roll, the room goes silent. She places a sheet of nori (dried seaweed) on a bamboo mat and gently presses rice atop it. When it has set, James tops the lower portion of the nori with bits of cucumber before rolling into place with the bamboo mat. “There’s your roll,” James says. “Easy! Give it a shot!”
The class chuckles in disbelief. For the next 15 minutes, there’s more laughter as the newbies attempt to replicate what they’ve seen. “I would say this is a solid C-plus,” says D.C. resident Stewart Pelto, evaluating his sushi. It’s not a bad first attempt if you ignore the fact that the roll isn’t completely closed.
Across the room, Mariam Awadalla of Springfield and her boyfriend, Mark Henein of Ashburn, smile as they eat pieces of their first roll. “We’ve been wanting to do it at home,” Awadalla says. “We’re definitely going to try it now.”
As the students snack on their rolls, James dispenses sushi etiquette tips: It’s an insult to the sushi chef to dip your sushi into the soy sauce. Instead, dip your chopsticks into the sauce and then pick up your sushi. If you’re taking sushi from a communal platter, turn your chopsticks around and use the end that doesn’t touch your mouth.
Halfway through the 90-minute course, students are starting to get the hang of it. James has taught them how to make a California roll and even a spicy tuna inside-out roll, in which the rice is on the outside of the nori.
Then she ups the ante and announces a contest for the best roll: “Feel free to be creative. Use whatever you like.”
Working on hers, Aisha Hassan falls victim to a frequent sushi faux pas: overstuffing.
“This is not going to happen,” she says as she tries to force her large roll to close. “It was too much pressure!”
Behind her, Keith Hoeni’s sushi looks as though it has spontaneously combusted.
Pelto calls it: “I think that’s the Titanic of sushi rolls, right there.”
After everyone has finished, James praises Jeremy Messinger of Alexandria for his winning roll’s combination of spicy tuna, avocado and cucumber and its “nice, compact center.”
Wait . . . isn’t that the guy who raised his hand at the beginning of class?
“I was a fishmonger for seven years,” Messinger confesses. “When we started to sell the sushi tuna, we had to make at least one roll. Mine did not look nearly as good as that. I’ve progressed a little bit. I haven’t made sushi in seven years.”
So practice makes perfect. But imperfection still tastes delicious. At 8:30 p.m., the students are gone and bowls of soy sauce and rice litter the tables.
The plates, however, are empty.
How to try it: Register for upcoming classes at www.iwishlessons.com. Locations vary. Sushi classes run several times a month and cost $60. Other courses range from $40-$50. Call 312-730-3660 for more information.
Coronado is a freelance writer.