Sushi: Learn how chef Yuki Chudui is changing a male-dominated world

I have been working in the sushi sector for 12 years, and it is my first time being so absorbed in something. Whether I’m about to sleep or when I wake up, I’m always thinking about sushi.

Yuki Chudui

As a kid, Yuki Chudui regarded herself as a unique child. She faced difficulties communicating with people and expressing her feelings and believed that her thinking differed from the rest. It wasn’t until high school when she attended an all-girls school and had to team up with her classmates for school projects, that she developed her communication skills. At that time, she realized that she wanted to pursue arts as it provided an avenue for self-expression. Yuki graduated from college as a graphic designer, a discipline that soon after led her to develop a passion for sushi and disrupt a traditionally male-dominated industry in Japan.

It is the rainy season. Tokyo starts to get warmer, yet the grey cloudy sky, the concrete, the typical Japanese neatly squared tiles covering the façades of the buildings, and the umbrellas carried by the crowds moving across intersections on a busy Monday morning dominate the scene.

I am waiting for Yuki in a café full of bookshelves with plants, jars, and pots in front of The Tokyo Stock Exchange. The yellowy lights, the aroma of Ethiopian coffee –the coffee of the day – the loud ambient music, and the greenery create an atmosphere quite different from the one outside.

Yuki arrives dressed in a long white dress with blue motifs. She gets an iced coffee and starts speaking eloquently. Long gone are the days when she struggled to express her thoughts.

Nadeshico Sushi, where everything started

Years earlier, there was a restaurant called Nadeshico Sushi, Yuki recalls; they were setting job posts and trying to operate the place under the concept of a women-only sushi restaurant.

“By that time, I had graduated from art school as a graphic designer, and I had kind of given up on art because I didn’t know what kind of art I wanted to pursue,” Yuki explains. Still, the job post from Nadeshico connected some dots for her as she found a similarity between sushi and graphic design.

Yuki’s sushi are art creations

“In the early 2000s, the trend in graphic design was to use two to three colors, which was thought to be cool; it was mainstream to use two to three colors in graphic arts. In sushi, you have the rice and the color of the fish; there are two colors and the simplicity of the shape, and the chef’s passion is incorporated in that.” For Yuki, the art aspects involved in creating a sushi piece allowed her to unlock new ways of expression.

Passion cultivation

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When explaining her creation process, Yuki says that she comes up with her own shape and a feasible design that she can create. She also ensures that there is a delicious aspect to it while ensuring it’s healthy.

She uses social networks and fashion magazines to find inspiration for visuals and designs. “If I’m looking at a dress, for example, and there is a slit, then I think I can have a slit inside the sushi and have the sauce come out of it.” There is another element around textiles. “I try to have a new collection of some sort for each season: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.” Switching the sushi creations by season makes her come up with new ideas and never stop innovating.

Yuki Chuduis delicious sushi pieces are artistic unique and memorable creations

Singularity and uniqueness in a piece of sushi

“It must be delicious,” Yuki repeats throughout the interview, as if it were a sine qua non rule, the first principle for her sushi creations. But what makes her sushi singular and unique is that every piece comes from the interaction and communication she has with her customers. “Sushi chefs are like on a stage. So, it’s your posture, how you stand around the kitchen, and the communication and interaction you have with the customers.” Yuki speaks with her customers and pays attention to how they feel and to their health condition. Then, she considers all the nutritional aspects and what vegetables she needs to add to the plate.

Sushi chef Yuki Chudui on stage as she would like to call it preparing sushi for her customers

For Yuki, sushi and art are intrinsically related; they belong in a world where the creation and the artist are inseparable. “When customers see my sushi at first glance, I want them to feel that it is sushi, but I also want them to see sushi and evoke about me. I want the sushi to remind customers of me.”

Contrary to what happens with a sculpture, a painting, or a photograph – which remains – sushi disappears once eaten. The only way for Yuki to resist the ephemeral nature of her creations is by consciously generating memories. Memories of the time the customers spent with her, the flavors and atmosphere in which they were immersed. She encourages her clients to record what she created for them, “I feel happy when people around the world eat my sushi. They eat it; they say they have never tasted such sushi, and I want them to keep that in their memories. So, when they eat sushi, they are reminded of that moment they spent with me.” This approach has limitations though; Yuki acknowledges that she cannot achieve these results if she has an event where the interaction chef-customer is not possible.

Thriving in a male-dominated industry

Sushi is a male-dominated industry, and it is difficult for a woman to thrive, to say the least. However, thanks to Yuki’s resilience and the support from the community, she managed to navigate the most challenging times in her career.

As Yuki recalls, it was around 2019 when she started receiving a lot of criticism from male chefs. And that criticism went viral on social media.

“I think there are hardly any female sushi chefs in the world, and I am probably one of the only few. I wear a kimono when I serve sushi and do all these new things, I allow makeup for women. Men can work 24/7, but for women, it is a different situation; I allow women to take maternity leave or take time off to rest and take care of themselves when they have their period. Whenever I do something new, it is different from what men are doing, and they don’t like that I am not following what they are doing. Some people take that as a feminist activity, and they don’t like it.”

Yuki Chudui

When all of this happened, Yuki was concerned that the staff in the restaurant would quit. She was afraid of people walking away, but instead, she received plenty of support from women, her friends, and the global community that supported her and cheered her on. “Without that, I don’t think I would have been able to continue with my career. I don’t think I would have stopped being a sushi chef, but I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without people’s support.”

Yuki remembers this period as a very tough one. But resilience and the support of the community helped her get through it. She thought that if she stopped there, her career would end, but she had the confidence and certainty to know that someone else shouldn’t take her love for sushi and her practice away.

Yuki’s present and future

Nadeshico Sushi closed its doors due to the pandemic. The influx of clients was not enough for the restaurant to remain open. But for Yuki, this played out well: “While I worked at Nadeshico Sushi, I couldn’t realize my next steps. Once the restaurant closed, that ending got me moving towards the next step in my journey.”

Sushi pieces by Yuki Chudui

Yuki is now clear about her future; she wants to travel overseas, hold events, and serve as an advisor or consultant to other restaurants, share her ideas, and teach about sushi. Of all places, she would love to go to Manhattan, although she is open to other opportunities in the States.

She also dreams about opening restaurants worldwide and ensuring the next generation inherits this passion: “Until I achieve that, I want to continue pursuing what I want to do.”

Overcoming daily challenges and a piece of advice from Yuki

For Yuki, it is about new ideas, how to accomplish them, and how to make them a reality. “I think that many people tend to give up,” but she tries to make sure that she breaks the idea into small parts and then works to achieve every step necessary to materialize it.

“Whatever happens, please don’t give up until you actually create something in some format because there is always going to be a wall and times when you want to stop.” Yuki shares her approach to facing obstacles. “I consult with many people every time I bump into a wall. There is this phrase in Japan that says two heads are better than one. That is why I always consult with as many people as possible, to get more wisdom.”

When it comes to criticism, she concludes with a wide and bright smile, “I think worldwide there are like 7.5 billion people, and I think that one person can be on your side,” she laughs. “So, it is really about getting it out, distributing your thoughts, conveying what you think.”

Follow Yuki on Instagram to learn more about her work

author avatar
Eleonora Leone
I’ve always been inspired by people who are deeply passionate about something, those who can talk for hours about what they love and relate it to almost anything in life. This admiration led me to ponder my own passions, which I discovered in the disciplines of martial arts, specifically tai chi, kung fu, and qi gong. These practices offer not just physical challenges but also a philosophy that intertwines mind and body. My focus on life passions was sharpened in 2021, when I lost two aunts within a fortnight—one to cancer and the other to an unclear illness. Tragically, they passed away without family by their side. This experience underscored the value of engaging in activities that not only bring joy but also foster a supportive community. Since then, I have become an advocate for pursuing passions, believing that everyone deserves to have a life passion and a community to share it with.

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