The culinary world is filled with stories of perseverance, art, and passion. But few tales captivate as much as that of Miho Sato, London’s only female sushi master and the shining star behind The Aubrey’s sushi counter.
We sat down at London’s leading Japanese restaurant (The Aubrey, located in the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park) to speak to their head sushi chef, Miho Sato, about her early life, tough training, passion for sushi making, and journey to mastery.
Becoming a Sushi Master
Typically, Itamae (Sushi Masters) are required to devote ten years of intensive training to master the art of preparing truly authentic Japanese sushi. Today, the craft of sushi-making is still overwhelmingly male-dominated.
In Japan, sushi-making still remains overwhelmingly male-dominated, with most female graduates relegated to part-time work or discouraged from pursuing this career altogether. If they remain in hospitality, they are pushed into sweeter pastry work, or, most often, having to leave hospitality to raise a family.
Japan has over 30,000 sushi restaurants and less than 10% of sushi chefs are women. In London – there is only one female Sushi Master – Miho Sato.
Miho’s story is one of dedication and love for an art that’s centuries old. Miho started her professional career training as an orthodontist, but her fascination in food had already begun at a young age as her parents owned a small boutique hotel in North Japan, an area famous for water, sake and rice.
As a result of her passion for the culinary arts, Miho began training and graduated with a Japanese National Sushi Certificate on March 6, 1997 (known as Heisei 9 in the Japanese calendar).
Miho trained under renowned sushi masters, absorbing techniques and secrets that have been passed down through generations.
“In Japanese cooking, seasonality, impeccable presentation, and taste are valued above all else,” Miho told us. “True training comes through experience. During the past few decades, I have been learning and developing my skills through working with a wide variety of ingredients and cooking methods. Along with my obsessive reading, I have absorbed the majority of my knowledge from the countless hours I spent in the kitchen with masters.”
In Cologne, Germany, Miho worked as a sushi chef for nearly four years before moving to London.
She has now been living and working in the capital for over 20 years in multiple restaurants including Masturi (St. James’ and Holborn), Sushihana, Zuma, and OBLIX at the Shard, working her way up from Chef de Partie to Head Chef in just four years. Prior to working at The Aubrey, she worked at Annabel’s in Mayfair, where she worked with ingredients of exceptionally high quality for the first time.
Working as Sushi Master at The Aubrey has become a unique collaboration of culinary ideas. Unlike previous work ventures where Miho has had to change her style to suit the luxury London market, Maximal Concepts, the award-winning restaurant group behind The Aubrey in Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, has worked closely with Miho to embrace her unique sense of style, encouraging her to explore techniques and flavour combinations that might not work elsewhere.
Master of Flavour
She notes that her elegant presentation is itself inspired by the award-winning design of the restaurant. A true master of flavour, she attributes her discerning palette to her lifestyle – she doesn’t drink fizzy drinks, smoke or eat spicy foods in order to maintain the highest standard of sensitivity to flavours. Sushi at The Aubrey is prepared in the Edomae style, using rice sourced from Hokkaido, and red vinegar made from ginjo sake lees. Rich in umami, this technique emphasises the natural flavours of the fish, with delicate dishes such as Snow crab and passionfruit maki or Hamachi Tataki with plum sake, cucumber, apple oroshi and sesame.
The Interview at The Aubrey, London
“I train hard. As hard as men.”-Miho Sato
Successfully Navigating a Male-Dominated Industry
In an industry dominated by men, Miho faced many obstacles as one of the only women, but she never changed who she was or let the oppressive opinions of others deter her or ever dampen her spirit.
“The fact that I am a woman does not change my techniques or my perspective, she said. “One’s perspective is their own, but I saw things differently being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Without mentors to guide me, I had to rely on my senses to produce the best food I could. I fall in love with the craft over and over again and believed it was what I was born to do.
“I train hard. As hard as men. In put in the time and effort and I never stop learning. My training will continue until I retire as a chef.
She added: “As for expectations or stereotypes, I choose not to engage with them. But I think female chefs are rare for both Japanese and global customers, and it takes time for everyone to become familiar with them.”
“Motivation comes from within and I teach Japanese culture with all my heart to anyone who wants to learn from me, regardless of gender.
“My advice for young women who are considering a career in sushi-making or any other traditionally male-dominated field is to keep doing what you’re doing and learn from your mistakes. Take responsibility and pride in your work as you continue your career and you’ll find that you’ll stay passionate about it.”
She added: “Never stop learning. Learn to believe in yourself and know that you won’t be able to do something tomorrow, but you will be able to by tomorrow’s tomorrow. Time is the greatest gift you can give yourself.”
Miho’s sushi style reflects a combination of traditional Japanese flavours as well as her own personal creativity and attention to detail.
“The style I practice is traditional Edomae sushi, which is made from koshihikari, a short grain Japanese rice that has a high starch content. The Edomae sushi rice is washed multiple times before cooking, resulting in a cleaner, more flavourful rice that accentuates the taste of both the fish and the soy/wasabi ingredients.
Miho told us: “In order to prepare sushi correctly, you need to pay attention to detail, be precise, and use quality ingredients. In addition to selecting the best fish, exceptional sushi chefs also know how to match rice to vinegar seasoning in a perfect way. A Japanese cuisine is one that requires the five senses, and learning how to touch each sense is crucial.
“I have always loved small details and there are so many small details and processes that are incorporated into making just one single nigiri. Each nigiri reflects a part of my personality, created as I developed a love for certain ingredients or learnt new skills and techniques.”
Less is More Approach
“In my opinion, less is more,” Miho told us. “The ingredients should be able to speak for themselves, through the way they look, as well as the structure they reveal when they are skilfully cut and plated. My goal is to celebrate and recognise each ingredient rather than to lose it in sauces. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with presentations – but the fun must be based on a celebration of the ingredients and preparation skills.”
In both Japan and London, women behind the counter remain a rare sight. But London’s only female sushi master, Miho Sato is paving the way for young women in the industry to claim a seat at the counter. Her hope is to inspire the next generation of female chefs hoping to master the art of sushi and to attain the extreme precision, knowledge, discipline, and skill required for such a revered role in the hospitality industry.
Experience Miho Sato’s magical creations at The Aubrey, London.