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“If you look at it from Japanese culture, America has more variety of chefs,” explains Jerry Warner, the executive chef in Café Japengo in La Jolla. “Over there, women are not allowed to make sushi in established restaurants.”
Considering the strict rules governing sushi in Japan, it’s understandable if the 50-year-old graduate of Poway High is a bit of an interloper.
But Warner’s rep in the sushi world is renowned enough that he was recently invited to compete on “Sushi Pride,” an annual Japanese reality TV show that pits one Japanese sushi chef against one sushi chef from another country.
Last year, a sushi chef from Spain competed against the Japanese. This year, Warner was selected from hundreds of American-born sushi masters to compete against Chef Toshikatsu Aoki, the owner chef of Michelin-starred “Sushi Aoki” in Tokyo, Japan.
The epic epicurean battle was filmed in November in Los Angeles, but won’t air until January. Warner is not allowed to say anything about the results, but he does consider the competition to be a career highpoint.
“They wanted to match chefs doing the traditional sushi style with those doing a more innovative style,” he says. “California sushi chefs are seen as not bound by tradition, and add local flavors like jalapeño or mango.”
Each chef had to make 10 nigiri, two sashimi platters, and three specialty rolls for the judges, who included Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, and Amy Finley, a former Food Network host who is now an editor for Riviera magazine.
Finley wasn’t familiar with Warner’s work before the show, but believes that was actually an advantage.
“The experience was fresh, and I could critique based on the days' preparations and not on any previous associations with Jerry's sushi skills,” she says.
Finley says the filming of the episode was like the Bill Murray flick Lost In Translation, and Warner admits there were times when he felt a bit lost himself.
“I don’t know if it was the language barrier, but there was some confusion on the rules,” he admits. ”The items I made were suggestions from the producers and they couldn’t be traditional. They had to be innovative.
“I’d like to do a rematch on Japanese soil. I think I’d be more in control of my destiny.”
Warner doesn’t know if his episode will find its way stateside, but he hopes to do some sort of viewing party at Café Japengo either live or on DVD.