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I've Cut My Fingers A Thousand Times, But Now, I Cut No More

Katsuramuki, also known as pillar peeling is a basic Japanese knife skill
Katsuramuki, also known as pillar peeling is a basic Japanese knife skill

Back in my early days behind the sushi bar, cutting my fingers was almost a rite of passage. My initiation came on day one, marking an awkward start to my career as a sushi chef. And yes, it was always a bit mortifying.

There were times when the mishap would go unnoticed, but on occasion, a customer would catch sight of me nursing a fresh cut or spot my fingers bleeding.

The pain from these incidents was usually minimal, thanks to the sharpness of the sashimi knife, but the real hurt was to my pride.

Following a cut, I'd retreat to the safety of the back kitchen, out of customers' view, to tend to my wound. Salt to halt the bleeding, followed by cotton pads and a bandage. And then, back to work I went, donning the tell-tale finger condom, a small but glaring signal of my mishap.

My first day at the sushi restaurant in Los Angeles

"For all our rolls, like the California and Spicy Tuna, we'll be using these," Jun explains, laying out English cucumbers on the counter. He demonstrates the initial step—trimming one end of a cucumber and removing its plastic wrapper—before moving on to the cutting board to show me the proper cutting technique.

"We'll divide them into three sections," he details. As Jun sizes up a cucumber with his left hand, he shares a standard measure at the sushi bar: "Four fingers, or the span of your palm, that's our guide."

"Four fingers?" I echo, seeking clarification.

"Exactly, four left fingers," he confirms, positioning his hand alongside the cucumber, then slicing neatly beside his palm.

I begin by trimming the ends of the remaining cucumbers, quickly getting the hang of unwrapping them. With twelve cucumbers, the process is surprisingly time-efficient, taking about fifteen seconds per cucumber. Next, we tackle cutting them to the prescribed four-finger width. My attempts vary, resulting in pieces ranging from five to six inches.

Having prepared all the cucumbers, Jun queries, "Have you ever attempted katsuramuki?"

Admitting I haven't, I'm eager to learn.

Katsuramuki, or pillar peeling, involves peeling vegetables into paper-thin slices, akin to peeling an apple's skin. It requires holding the cucumber in your left hand and the knife in your right, skillfully rotating the cucumber to peel it smoothly.

Despite its apparent riskiness—your hand dangerously close to the blade—it's a fundamental technique. Unfortunately, my inexperience shows when I slice my left index finger while attempting my second cucumber.

Exclaiming in shock as blood begins to flow, I desperately ask, "Where's the Band-Aid?"

Jun directs me to the First Aid kit in the kitchen.

Such a rocky start to my first day is far from what I'd hoped, marking a memorable, albeit challenging, introduction to the world of sushi preparation.

After a thousand times, I now cut no more?

I'd vow each time was the last, yet history had a way of repeating itself.

The real sting wasn't from the cut or the makeshift finger protection. It was pondering the why — questioning how I could let it happen.

"It's usually when your mind is elsewhere," one sushi chef once enlightened me. Truer words were never spoken.

This insight came into sharper focus when I stumbled upon a quote from another chef: “I used to cut my fingers all the time, probably a thousand times. But now? I don’t cut my fingers anymore.” It echoed my own journey from frequent mishaps to a point where such accidents are a distant memory.

Well, almost…


Breakthrough Sushi offers sushi classes and sushi catering in the San Francisco Bay Area using sustainable seafood.

If you like to inquire about your next corporate or private event, please send us an email to request a quote.

If you like to sign up for our scheduled public classes in San Francisco and San Jose (Santa Clara), please see the schedule here.

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