CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — For less-than-adventurous eaters, sushi can be an intimidating dish to eat, let alone try to prepare at home.
But Joe Reckard, executive chef at The Greenhouse of Teays Valley, is trying to change home cooks' minds, one class at a time.
While sushi might look like a complicated, difficult-to-prepare dish, Reckard said it is actually quite accessible for beginners. No cooking skills are required for his class.
"We call this 'Sushi 101,'" he said. "I can give them just the basic techniques they need to start, be comfortable and present them to friends and not be embarrassed. We want them to have all the techniques they need to be a hobbyist."
There are several different categories of sushi, but Reckard's class focuses on small rolls, made of two or three ingredients.
Students will not use any raw fish, but instead work with more user-friendly proteins like imitation crabmeat, smoked salmon and shrimp.
The most important part of the process, Reckard said, is the rice that binds the dish together. His class offers in-depth lessons on rice making, helping students learn which kinds of rice to use and how to prepare it.
"That's where most people fail," he said. "Sushi, literally translated, is 'vinegared rice.'"
He said it doesn't take long for students to get the hang of basic sushi-making techniques.
"It's like this light goes off in people, after they've done one or maybe two," he said.
It's even become a serious hobby for some of Reckard's former students, who continue their sushi education elsewhere and learn how to make more complicated kinds of rolls.
"Some of them become almost obsessive. They'll send me pictures of some of the presentation plates they do," he said.
Some, he said, have even bypassed their former teacher's abilities.
Reckard learned to make sushi while working in the financial sector. His job took him all over the country, and throughout his travels he began taking cooking classes and working in kitchens. He eventually wound up working alongside a "true sushi master" at an Asian restaurant in Tampa, Fla., where Reckard did prep work for the other cooks.
"In his world, if you came in as a sushi apprentice, you spent a minimum of five years just learning to prepare rice. Then you spent five years just cutting and preparing ingredients," he said. "This is a very, very serious art form in the sushi world."
The man taught Reckard how to make sushi, a talent he now uses for customers at The Greenhouse, a restaurant, catering business, gift shop and Weber grill dealership he runs with his brother, Eric.
He prepares rolls as appetizers, and sometimes sets up a sushi-making station at catered events. He started teaching classes last year, and began offering classes at Charleston's Uncork and Create a few months later.
Uncork and Create co-owner Danielle Snydow said the classes are very popular with her customers. Some attendees bring their significant others, some bring their friends and some even bring their children.
"You meet new people and you learn how to make sushi . . . and you get to eat all you make," she said.
And while Reckard's two-hour class probably will not produce any World Sushi Cup winners — yes, that's an actual competition — participants can expect some serious eating.
"You're going to eat until you're Thanksgiving Day full," he said.
For more information, visit www.uncorkandcreate.com. You can also call Uncork and Create at 304-552-3331 for more information.
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.charlestondailymail.com