Theresa and I arrive late, giggling, a little tipsy from cocktails prior to the start.
The group is small, the room is long and narrow, bare, a few chairs in front of a countertop, the ceilings high, the air not filled a delectable aroma of any sort.
To the right sits a couple, not talkative, vegans we learn later when they decline the tasting of the dish with egg.
In the back row, one man, sitting alone, in a slump, looks lethargic, very weak, perhaps from hunger, we wonder.
And another man sits, waiting, with long legs, a man who carries a scent, the fresh depth of soap, layered with leather and cut with citrus, green grass and perhaps the tang of common maleness, the scent of Tom Hardy I’d once followed through an airport terminal just to identify which tie-wearing man had learned how to smell so available.
T and I sit down, after much ruffling of papers, much wiggling to the front, much jockeying to sit where we can both see the presentation AND accommodate my now keen interest in capturing more of the scent and some of the attention, maybe even the touch, perhaps a brush of our elbows, a random hand on my thigh, oh yes, the long boned, beautiful hand connected to the man smelling so edible, sitting to the front left with the wood of his chair pressed directly to mine might reach out to my person.
Amidst half-hearted apologies for our tardy to the chef and with my olfactory senses swooning in the presence of the stranger, our entrance to sushi class is met with a combination of raised eyebrows and relief from the man standing in front wearing pristine whites, wielding a sharp paring knife in his right hand and waving the cover of a one-quart saucepan in his left.
He knew, and we knew, we were the balance needed for this silent room.
We were perfectly interactive as we had demonstrated with our hellos to the group and our eye contact with the chef and our questions about how much we had missed and though he was silent in word, he was obvious in face, clearly revealing his hopes to trade our admiration of his art for his appreciation of our boisterous commentary amongst this meagre assembly of all-too-quiet pupils. The fine artistic skills he had been hired to demonstrate and inspire in the perfect construct of his beautiful rolls of sushi were not wasted on this evening.
Theresa and I intended to be amused and amusing. Chef Mike intended to amuse and amaze.
Ah, sushi Chef Mike. Let us take in the man.
We could tell he was not cooking at all- he was creating. He was so tall, so thin, his white slacks slipped down his narrow hips and despite the brown belt cinched tight and his sleeves rolled up to show the burn marks on the exposed bones of his wrists and forearms, here was a lean man of serious intent.
The art he was going to create for us was his focus and was as good of an explanation as any as to why he didn’t carry the heft of a typical chef. Clearly, he wasn’t cooking to eat, instead he was creating food to inspire respect for the theatre of assembly and the application of the colors and the placement, the crisp alignment between the fragrant rice or the seaweed wrap, all simply a bonus for the tongue which should burst, if he had planned well in matching bounty to the symmetry captured by the eye inside the circumference of his rolled masterpieces.
Chef Mike was a not just a perfectionist, he was an admirer of the end result, a man who nearly cooed when he saw the cut roll met his mind’s imagined sculpture. In the course of the evening we watched him slice a shrimp into six paper thin pieces to layer inside, nestled between julienned peppers and cucumber and scallion. He used a fish knife, razor sharp, flexible and mastered by his hand, to meticulously turn the tiniest piece of vegetable into seven. His hands waved over the construction with flamboyant gestures. At times, he would stand back, his knees would bend, a genuflect of sorts to the beauty of the vision laid on the plate for us to imitate, then to taste, then to fear as it it became obvious at the contrast revealed in our feeble attempts to recreate his rolls.
We teased him about the speed of his assembly and humbled by his intentions to turn mere root vegetables into bites of beauty, we teased him further about his impeccable knife skills, his perfect sticky rice and his effortless combination of just the right amount of sweet with sour, savory with salty.
We were smitten with his raised eyebrows, his faked nonchalance when the group admitted we were ruined now for any of the local sushi spots and declared we would need to learn to do it this way, at home- or never eat it again!
Chef Mike’s mischievous grin emerged after accolades. He knew he was asking too much of us, but he was willing to play along with our interest in learning to make sushi and we in turn, played along in our deprecating commentary about our poor final products but swooped in to taste his offering knowing that this was the only time we would have Chef Mike cooking in this intimate setting, just for us, these wretched non-enlightened sushi consumers sitting hip to hip, strangers waiting to turn a class of food with friends into connections worthy of the scents and flavors now mingled in our memories.
She met him in sushi class. His scent stole her mind. His hand secured her thigh. Foodies, forever searching for the right moments to pair breaking bread with conversations and real food followed by sublime dessert selections of the connecting kind.