June 3 2016 03:34 PM

‘Tokyo Fish Story’ actors studied at Azuki Sushi in Hillcrest

    From left: actors James Saito and Tim Chiou learning to make nigiri from Azuki Sushi chef Robin Villanueva
    Photo by Eric Louie

    James Saito and Tim Chiou aren't sushi chefs, but they play them onstage.

    Saito and Chiou are the stars of Tokyo Fish Story, a play running until June 26 at The Old Globe and takes place at a sushi restaurant in Japan.

    The intricacies of making sushi are complex enough that the cast members were trained by the chefs at Azuki Sushi in Hillcrest (2321 Fifth Ave).

    "There are lots of little details you're not aware of when you're sitting there watching it being made," Saito says. "The action of actually cutting the fish and then making the rice. You're constantly wetting your hands, but they can't be too wet or the rice sticks too much. Too dry and it falls apart."

    Authenticity was important to both actors, which is why they tried to make the most of their sushi sessions with Azuki sushi chefs Robin Villanueva and Nanami Koshiba.

    "For instance, they showed us how to make Tamagoyaki [a type of Japanese omelette] and they'd tell us to pop the air bubbles and how to flip it," Chiou says. "These are things that audiences won't know, but we wanted to do it in case there are chefs in the audience so they'll know we're doing it right."

    Villanueva says both actors struggled at first, but were dedicated students.

    "Each attempted to make a few pieces of sushi during our initial training session," Villanueva says. "As can be expected, they struggled a little out of the gate, but Tim actually took to it pretty quickly. As he is the one who will actually make sushi on stage, he practiced a little more, and, after a few attempts, got the 'hang of it' so to speak."

    Chiou says he prepared for the roll, er, role by purchasing his own set of sushi knives and practiced every night.

    "There are very specific rules about everything, even shaping the rice," he says. "They have a two-finger technique, and a four-finger technique and it's all done very quickly. It's something you can't fake."

    Although Saito and Chiou did "research" by dining at Azuki and Sushi Ota (4529 Mission Bay Drive), Chiou decided not to eat any of the sushi he made at home.

    "I love sushi and don't want to get sick of it by eating bad sushi,î he laughs.

    Azuki Sushi is offering a $45 prix fixe meal for people with tickets to Tokyo Fish Story. The menu consists of: A sashimi course, a nigiri course and king crab miso soup. For more information call 619-238-4760.

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