School of raw

Downtown’s Rawbar takes the guess work out of sushi

Master sushi chef Mike Tanaka carefully slices up salmon.

Master sushi chef Mike Tanaka carefully slices up salmon.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

A chef uses a white towel to wipe down a 66-pound tuna sprawled out upon a cutting board. He picks up a knife so large it looks more like a sword than kitchen cutlery, and makes an incision on the giant fish that reveals its purple flesh.

To his left, another chef slices the pale pink flesh of a salmon. Each movement, every slice and cut, is done with purpose and grace.

This is business as usual during a pre-lunch butchering hour at downtown’s Rawbar, where master sushi chefs do their thing at an open sushi bar.

But preparation for something new has been put on the front burner. Rawbar will be starting up its fall sushi preparation classes, which began last winter after a three-year hiatus. In the classes, students will learn how to prepare Asian cuisine, from sushi to sake to Thai food.

The classes are taught by Darren Chadderdon, the restaurant’s co-owner and executive chef, who has been in the food business for 20 years, during 17 of which he’s worked as a chef.

Chadderdon has witnessed an increased interest in sushi during the past few years, especially with the advent of “Americanized” sushi, such as California rolls with crab and avocado, which he considers a stepping stone to developing a more adventurous palate for Asian eats. People are usually more willing to start off with sushi that contains familiar ingredients than with something that looks like left-over bits from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

But despite sushi’s increased popularity in restaurants, it generally isn’t the type of cuisine people make at home. Raw fish can make people sick if it is not properly prepared, and most folks don’t have the expertise for do-it-yourself sushi.

Fish suitable for sushi must be eaten only a day or two after it is caught. Large fish, like the aforementioned 66-pound tuna, are caught in deep waters, where it takes a while to get back to shore. The fish are frozen the moment they are caught to kill any parasites.

Ben Beckman, a sushi chef apprentice, butchers a 66-pound tuna.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

Rawbar’s cooking classes help take some of the mystery out of the art of sushi. Students learn the basics of how to preserve fish, how to prepare different kinds of fish, how to pair them with vegetables, and how to make rice.

Students also learn where to get the supplies they need to make sushi at home, plus some specific guidelines on how to prepare raw food. For example, finding fish suitable for sushi takes more than visiting your local grocery store. (But not to worry, students won’t be asked to slice up a tuna half their size, either.)

The best part, says Chadderdon, is that his students get to practice the art of making their own rolls.

First, they gather around to watch demonstrations. Then they practice rolling their own “dream rolls,” made from whatever they feel like eating. The Rawbar’s apprentice chefs split up to work with the students, two at a time.

“I’m more the voice and they’re more of the hands for the class,” Chadderdon said.

After the lesson is over, there is a big luncheon during which the participants eat their creations. The feast is accompanied with a sake lecture for those over the legal drinking age. Few people realize that sake is just as complex as traditional wine and that it can be artistically paired with different foods, Chadderdon said.

“It is a wine,” Chadderdon explained. “It’s just made with rice instead of grapes.”

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The classes becomes very social—the kind of atmosphere that would make for a really fun date, says Chadderdon. People who take the classes often stay in touch with each other beyond the lessons, and they are as varied as the sushi bar menu itself. Students under 21 years old, as well as couples in their 40s and 50s, have signed up for Rawbar classes.

Chadderdon looks forward to the classes because they give him the opportunity to put paperwork aside and get back to his passion.

“Plus, I’m a food geek,” he said, “and it’s really fun to talk about what we do and get people involved.”

Schedule of classes

Sushi/Sake 101 (beginner)
Sunday, Sept. 23
Sunday, Oct. 21

Sushi/Sake 202 (advanced)
Butchery demonstrations, hands-on nigiri, sashimi, hand cones and sauces.
Sunday, Dec. 9

Thai Cooking
Demonstrations in Thai home cooking, homemade curries, desserts and soups. Plus, purchasing tips.
Sunday, Jan. 13
Sunday, March 23

Kids Cooking
Hands-on kids class, with an emphasis on fun, healthful, Asian variations of kids’ favorites.
Saturday, Dec. 8

Sake-Food Pairing Dinner (limited spaces available)
Monday, Nov. 12

For detailed information, check out To register for classes, contact Darren Chadderdon at or 514-4863.