Zoë Escher, Class of Summer 2006 has returned to CSA in February 2011 to polish her Japanese knife skills


student's pictureJapanese food has always had my interest. For many years I practiced the Japanese martial kendo and in 2004 I went
to Tokyo to practice kendo for three weeks. During my stay highly
skilled sensei’s took me to several sushi bars and Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. It was a real eye-opener because for the first
time in my life I tasted authentic Japanese sushi. Unfortunate, in
2005 I had to go through knee surgery and after that I was told that it would be best if I stopped practicing kendo.

In 2006 I needed a change and decided to become a sushi chef. After an intense search on the Internet I decided to attend a 3 month Sushi chef Course at California Sushi Academy. This is one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life. Toshi Sugiura and the instructors that teach are highly skilled and have many years of experience as sushi chefs.  You will learn how to make sushi and traditional Japanese dishes the Japanese way, to use many different Japanese cooking techniques, be introduced to new flavors and tastes, get extended knowledge about fish and Japanese ingredients, lots internship in the sushi bar and training as a sushi chef. You will be challenged and get the opportunity to find your own style as a sushi chef.

If you have a dream of becoming a sushi chef I can only recommend California Sushi Academy.   

Soon after I left California Sushi Academy I worked at a sushi restaurant in Copenhagen in Denmark. But, I am very ambitious and wanted to have my own business

picture of sushi book coverIn June 2010 I published my first sushi cookbook called “Matcha, omakase og sushi – for alle der værdsætter god mad”.

In September 2010 I appeared on WebTV at Denmark’s biggest newspaper Berlingske showing how to make different kinds of sushi.

In December 2011 I created a 6 course sushi menu for New Year for the most read women’s magazine “Alt for Damerne” in Denmark.

At the moment (January 2012) I teach sushi classes, teach at private parties,
polterabends and teambuilding’s. In the future I am quite sure, that I will appear in several food magazines, newspapers and at some point I will have my own Japanese restaurant.


Cynthia Arellano, Classof Fall 2006

“Being a female sushi chef on the Norwegian Cruise Line was such a special thing. You have to be on top of every thing because people expect more in a way. I was feeling over 200 people every night on the cruise ship. I learned how to entertain the customers. This is their dream vacation! We had to make their dining experience extra special. Customer service was a huge part of what I learned.

The biggest compliment in my career came from Japanese couple that never had sushi in any other place but in Osaka where they are from. They were a little hesitates to sit in front of you because I was an American female sushi chef. But I saw their faces changing during the dinner. They loved what I served. That’s when I decided that I want to learn more. It was an epiphany!

I served VIP and celebrities like prince of Malaysia and his family, Reba McIntyre, Mary Wilson of the Supreme, Deborah Cox, etc. I even had groupies who had the copies of Jane magazine that I was featured asked me to autograph them! I enjoyed the celebrity on the ship.

CSA helped me get in the door. Without having gone to CSA, I couldn’t have this career. There was so much to absorb from the schooling, and most of what I learned kept popped up in my mind as I was working. Customers enjoyed listening to the stories and information of each sushi fish I learned at CSA. As a sushi chef at the bar, every customer wants to know everything about you. Your personal life becomes very much a part of the sushi bar!

If you trust yourself, then people start to trust you. If you have a passion to do something, sky is not the limit as long as you are assured of yourself. If you have a positive attitude, people will always give you a chance. You will learn a lot about yourself along the way, and I wish everyone could experience this.

I’d 100% recommend CSA to aspired sushi chefs. It gives you a sense of accomplishment; it gives you a positive reinforcement. If you are passionate about something, no one can tell you no. I think it’s within you. I can say that females can do anything, after going through what I’ve gone through.

My goal is to study further with Toshi, and become that person, a role model to inspire women to become sushi chefs. I want to be the next Rachel Ray! Females have to be confidant and assured of yourself especially because a lot of people close doors on you because of your gender. This is the dream. I’m not going to give up. Just be proud of who you are, and you can do anything!

That’s why I went to corporation because they wouldn’t discriminate.

You can’t start running. You have to start walking. Take this, take that and it will take you where you want to be. You have to be willing to be humbling yourself and start from basic.

Cynthia Arellano, Class of Fall 2006
Cynthia is a sushi chef at Bar HAYAMA in Los Angeles, California. Prior to the current position, she was a head sushi chef at the Norwegian Cruise Line based in Hawaii. She was featured in the May 2007 issue of the Jane Magazine as one of the “Thirty Ispirational Women Under Thirty.”

Kate Murray, Class of Winter 2005

“CSA taught me the disciplines and helped me find a passion in life. I learned a lot from Zoran, the instructor, on the art of sushi. The experiences in classroom and working at a sushi bar during the internship were very valuable.

Being featured in the Zen of Fish was so surreal! It’s still sinking in slowly. But as I read it, I enjoyed seeing the progress I have made from the day one through today. I had a memorable experience on the first day of school where we had to do katsuramuki. Everyone held knife and cutting toward themselves. I was very scared and worried!

Anyone who’s interested in becoming a sushi chef, they should just go for it. It is challenging especially for female chefs, but once it clicks, you will get hooked!

Kate Murray, Class of Winter 2005
Kate is a sushi chef at Sushi Fix, and has her own catering company in San Diego, California. She is a main character of the book by Trevor Corson, The Zen of Fish

Marco Ansaldo, Class of Spring 2007

“Schooling at California Sushi Academy was an amazing experience; we received a lot of information and we went through a lot of hands-on training, which I think is the most important thing! Everyday there was something new to learn and the instructors were very professional.

Of course all the materials that I learned at school are extremely important and useful for my professional experience at the Fire House, especially when it comes to rice preparation and fish filleting and cutting techniques.

I am currently the second sushi chef at the Firehouse. My future goal as a sushi chef? Well, first of all never stop learning and reinventing myself all the time; then I will probably look for positions in Europe, or start as a freelance for catering and private dinners parties. Maybe one day I will open my own fusion sushi bar!

The message that I want to leave to the perspective CSA students is very simple: take it very seriously, commit yourself and practice, practice, practice! Oh I forgot… and….practice ! Try also to sign for as many internship opportunities as you can, because when school is finished and you jump behind a sushi bar…well good luck, everything depends on you and on how much commitment you put to get there.

It’s an amazing job, working hours are long and customers wants what they ask for! Ready to rock? Irashaimase!

Marco Ansaldo, Class of Spring 2007
Marco is a sushi chef at the Firehouse in Venice, California. He is a 2007 winner of the California Rice Commission’s scholarship. His submission “Indian Fusion Chicken Rice” has received a starred review.

Kwong Lee, Class of Summer 2006 – UPDATED – Kwong is a restaurant owner in Gent, Belgium.  After submitting this testimonial his restaurant AMATSU  has received additional critical acclaim by national Belgian  newspapers De Morgen and De Standaard, local Belgian newspaper De Gentenaar, French guidebook Guide du Routard, Michelin 2011 & 2012, and major French magazine Le Point.

“As I write this testimonial, it is precisely one year ago that I completed my CSA Intensive Sushi Chef Course in the summer of 2006. On May first of 2007, my new Japanese restaurant opened and I am delighted to convey the news that after being open for only three months, our restaurant got rated four stars out of five by the most influencial local magazine for restaurants. This success couldn’t be achieved without the the help and support provided by CSA president Toshi Sugiura and his wonderful staff.

In what way did CSA contribute to our success? Let’s start from the beginning : how did our path cross with that of CSA? Well, my wife and I love Japanese food and culture. As our hometown in Belgium didn’t have a decent Japanese restaurant we saw that as a business opportunity and decided to open one. We couldn’t even make a decent makimono, so this decision might be seen as a fools choice. Fact is that you won’t be a top sushi chef or any kind of specialist in a short period. It takes years of training and hard work to become one. You can compare our situation to a person in Japan deciding to open a top French restaurant in Tokyo. Following a cooking course alone will not do it. We needed a top sushi chef and to build a good team around him. To manage it all, we needed to be able to understand the needs of a top sushi chef and anticipate any problems that might occure. And in the long term we also hoped to become decent sushi chefs ourselves.

We looked for the best English speaking sushi course, as we didn’t speak Japanese. After an extensive search we decided for the CSA Intensive Sushi Course and we never looked back on this decision. In the three months that we spend at CSA we got a tremendous amount of knowledge of not only sushi, but also of many other Japanese dishes and cooking technics. As our restaurant not only has a sushi bar but also serve tempura and many other warm dishes, this aspect of the CSA course was very important to us, as we noticed afterwards.

Like with all courses, what you learn depends for a major part on your own dedication and creativity. If a CSA graduate would apply for a job in my restaurant, as a restaurant owner I would feel secure enough about the technical skills to give such a person a more advanced job in the kitchen or sushibar. But whether such a person would have a fast or slow career depends totally on the attitude and dedication shown. CSA provides excellent tools, but in what fashion these tools are wielded is entirely in the hands of the CSA graduate, of course.

Besides providing an excellent course, CSA has also helped us find a top sushi chef to start our restaurant. It is an expensive matter to find a sushi chef, to arrange the immigration papers, and then to pay for him to come and work. Not only the skills, but equally important is the attitude of such a candidate. The pre-selection by CSA meant that we didn’t need to screen this critical staff member ourself and that we could concentrate on other important matters that needed sorting out before the opening of our restaurant.

For those of you who decide on enrolling a CSA course, you will have a marvellous time under the guidance of the dedicated and very friendly sensei Toshi Sugiura and his equally dedicated and friendly CSA staff !

Kwong Lee, Class of Summer 2006
Kwong is a restaurant owner in Gent, Belgium. His restaurant Amatsu has received a critical acclaim by a Belgian newspaper Nieusblad.

Jeffrey Wang, Class of Winter 2006

“One retired firefighter. A computer consultant. A former prison guard. These are just a few of the motley crew that made up California Sushi Academy’s class of Winter 2006. Brought together by rice and nori, we endured, thrived and bonded over three months of intensive learning.

Every day, the regiment was consistent. Early risers would help set up cutting boards and prepare the sushi rice for that day. Eight thirty on the dot, our sensei would empower us with new skill. Filleting salmon, frying tempura, rolling a Spider Roll or preparing eel sauce, we did it all. One day it was mouth-watering Kobe beef. The next was learning to pick worms out of monkfish liver. Beep! Beep! Rice was done, time to add the vinegar mix that would singe your nostrils together with steam from the fresh rice. The range of flavors and textures we sampled and learned to prepare were truly eye-opening.

But beyond the skills of sushi and Japanese cooking, the experience offered a chance to get to know a group of individuals who came together as a team. There was an unspoken sense of camaraderie which we seldom come across in life. Upon graduation, I got the sense that it was not the end, but rather the beginning of new friendships and the opportunity to utilize our newly honed skills as sushi chefs.

Jeffrey Wang, Class of Winter 2006

Paul Marasia, Class of Winter 2006

“Coming to CSA changed my life forever. Without the CSA experience, I would have never got a job, or I would have never be who I am today. I had no culinary experiences before, which made it tougher for me at the beginning but the amazing instructors assisted me a lot. They were unbelievable.

I learned the basic of Japanese cuisine, just right materials to get you started. I think I have gained a great understanding of the fundamentals.

I have so much fun working at the sushi bar. I love talking to the customers and serve them my creations. What I learned at CSA is definitely helping at my daily work as a sushi chef. I would have never gotten the job here without the experiences at CSA. My boss is impressed with my skill level, despite the fact that I am not Japanese. I feel confident about my skills because I have done many caterings as an intern at CSA.

I absolutely recommend the education at CSA to anyone. The experiences of learning and friends I met through school have become something to cherish for the rest of my life.

Paul Marasia, Class of Winter 2006
*Paul is a sushi chef at the East by Southwest in Durango, Colorado.

Leland Taylor, Class of Fall 2006

“I came to the California Sushi academy not knowing what to expect. I had never worked in a kitchen before or even a restaurant for that matter. The good spirits and relaxed yet professional manner of the instructors and staff of the California Sushi Academy soon put me at ease. They taught the art of sushi, the basics of Japanese cooking and even an understanding of sake food pairing. The instructors made sure that each student got the individual attention they needed, including they much coveted skill of the Tamagoyaki. All combined with the challenge of running a lunch time sushi bar made the California Sushi Academy an invaluable experience.

Now I am employed at the Pearl Dragon of Pacific Palisades full time and am excelling in my sushi skill. Thanks to the CSA, I can have confidence in my job and am met with few surprised in my work. I can pick up new skill quickly and have use the subtle tricks of the trade taught to me at the CSA to great success. I would encourage anyone interested in a career as a sushi chef to attend the California Sushi Academy and learn from the true masters of the trade.

Leland Taylor, Class of Fall 2006
*Leland is a sushi chef at the Pearl Dragon in Pacific Palisades, California.

Kristian Brey, Class of Fall 2006

“W hen I came to CSA, I already had a little experience in making sushi. And after I left CSA, I’ve gained much greater knowledge in Japanese cuisine and much better technique in making sushi.

When I decided to work on my sushi skills, I first started by looking for a job at a Japanese restaurant, but only to meet with discouragement by people saying that I needed to speak Japanese to get a job. Then I found the CSA on the internet and they were willing to teach the art of sushi to anyone wants to learn.

All the CSA staff showed us patiently all aspects of sushi, Japanese cuisine and sake which has now become my favorite drink.

In my current job I am using all the knowledge I gained at the CSA everyday and I have much more confidence in my skills and the handling of the raw fish. And I am sure my sushi is much better than before my three months at the CSA.

And even now after CSA, my hunger for knowledge is growing even stronger than before and I am still looking for more. So I would recommend CSA to anyone who is interested in sushi and wants to get a very good basic knowledge to start a career as a sushi chef.

Kristian Brey, Class of Fall 2006
Kristian is a sushi chef at the restaurant Soho Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Kiel, Germany. He was a number one student at the Class of Fall 2006.

Filipina Pate, Class of Summer 2006

“I was so lucky to find the California Sushi Academy. I left my corporate job to pursue this new life because I was burnt out and unsatisfied. I was pleasantly surprised to find that more than half of my class consisted of women and many of my classmates were also career-changers, just like me.

At first, it was a little intimidating to work side-by-side with people who had been working in a kitchen since they were teenagers. I realized that I was learning a lot from my teachers, but I was also learning from my classmates, who came from different countries and different backgrounds. Seeing the same people every day for three months makes you get to know them very well, and by graduation day, it did feel like we were a family.

After graduation, I found work two months later as an apprentice chef at a sushi restaurant in Kansas City. I am the only woman working in the kitchen and sushi bar. When I started working, my chef noted that most sushi chefs he knows are badly trained, and despite years of experience, they hadn’t learned as much as I did at CSA.

I love my new career and I’m glad I took a chance on myself. CSA is a great learning experience and I highly encourage everyone to take a class and see it for themselves.”

Filipina Pate, Class of Summer 2006
Filipina is an apprentice chef at the Sushi House in Leawood, Kansas. She is the board member of the team to launch the CSA Alumni Association.

Suryo Husodo, Class of Fall 2006

“I have learned a lot from the Intensive Sushi Chef Course at the California Sushi Academy! I am employed by the restaurant with full confidence. I can definitely tell the difference in my skills before the schooling and the after. My employers are very happy with my level of skill and experiences I earned from CSA.

There is a lot of practical knowledge that I learned at CSA that are greatly helping me at work. Examples are knowledge on each fish and techniques in how to handle fish. I am also making a great use of the tools and knives I got from the school.

The CSA’s sake class by Satomi-sensei has helped me a lot because now I know which sake to recommend with different sushi to my customers at the counter. I never would have known what to do with sake if I didn’t take this class!

Even after my graduation, I often knock the door of the Academy to get the career advice and tips on the skills, which I find very helpful. The senseis are always welcoming! The schooling and the relationship I have built with CSA is something I cherish very much and I would recommend CSA to anyone who is an aspiring sushi chef!”

Suryo Husodo, Class of Fall 2006
Suryo is a sushi chef at Bar HAYAMA, the restaurant owned by CSA’s CEO, Toshi Sugiura. He was one of the honor students at the California Sushi Academy.

Luis Bento, Class of Spring 2006

“Knowledge, advice and good fun is how I would describe CSA. Everyone there is friendly, happy and supportive – a family away from home.

The course is not only about sushi and sashimi: it is a three-month intensive course on Japanese cooking from the basics (stock and sauces) all the way through to sushi and Japanese fusion.

Students are instructed by Toshi-sensei and Tetsu-sensei. Working alongside Toshi-sensei allows you to learn a great deal. Classes are small and this facilitates personalized training. Tetsu-sensei is always around to help.

Internship hours include the evening omakase bar by Toshi-sensei, with Tetsu-sensei in the hot kitchen doing traditional Japanese cooking. Also available for internship was the outside catering opportunities. I enjoyed being able to explore L.A through special catering events while completing my internship hours.

No Japanese culinary course would be complete without sake. The sake course is done by Satomi-sensei, who I still seek advice from for my restaurant. The sake course is very informative, fun and involves lots of tasting.

The lunch sushi bar restaurant is managed by Jimbo-san, who teaches restaurant management and proper Japanese etiquette. It was always great to be around Jimbo.

Through one-on-one training, CSA teaches you all you need to know about running a sushi bar. I would not have been running a Japanese restaurant without the positive encouragement and training CSA provided.

The training I received at CSA, combined with my experience working in a Western kitchen, helped me prepare for my present job. I am now head chef of Hakisushi – Portugal.

Toshi-sensei not only was a great instructor, but also has become a wonderful mentor and friend, being there for me through my difficult times.

I am eternally grateful to all at CSA for guiding me on my career, and I know I can always ask for advice anytime.”

Luis Bento, Class of Spring 2006
Luis is a head chef, production manager of Haki Sushi in Lisbon, Portugal. He is also a sushi instructor to its Haki Sushi School. Prior to his enrollment at CSA, he has worked at numerous establishments throughout Europe and South Africa with various culinary disciplines including Italian, French, Portuguese, and his native South African.

Marisa Baggett, Class of Fall 2003

” As an African American female, I was hesitant to even apply at the California Sushi Academy for fear that the art of sushi and Japanese cuisine was a carefully guarded secret, reserved only for males of Asian decent. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! The staff of CSA welcomed me warmly without care or thought of my gender or ethnic background.

Through small class size, lots of individual instruction and hands on experience with catering and actual sushi bar work, CSA provided me with the skills I wanted to learn and so much more. After completing the intense program, I was able to begin my career as a sushi chef immediately. Because of CSA, I have been able to easily communicate with purveyors, stand behind the sushi counter with confidence and realize one of my biggest dreams!”

Marisa Baggett, Class of Fall 2003
Marisa Baggett is a freelance writer and the owner of the Popfish Sushi Comapny in Memphis, TN. Prior to launching her own business, Marisa was a head sushi chef of Do Sushi Bar and Lounge in Memphis.She has been recognized locally and nationally, as well as internationally in Japanese publication The Hiragana Times for her sushi talent.

Sinma DaShow, Class of Winter 2002

“The irony is I only started taking sushi after I moved to the United States in 1998 but the thought of becoming a sushi chef never ever crossed my mind until one of my trips back home to Singapore that I realized somehow sushi in Singapore taste very different from those I had in U.S. It was only after 2 years of working as an account manager in Vancouver, BC that I had the opportunity to speak with Toshi and that’s when the idea of attending the CSA professional sushi program and doing something to change the “sushi situation” in this part of the world really hit me.

I traded my power suit for an apron and it has been great fun since. And I found out why sushi I had here was different, the main reason was in the training of sushi chefs. A good training program made the difference. And that’s what we’ve dedicated ourselves to do.

We have big dreams here and we hope to make the CSA training program available to more parts of Asia soon.”

Sinma DaShow, Class of Winter 2002
California-Asia Sushi Academy
Sinma DaShow is a founder of California-Asia Sushi Academy, CSA’s sister school in Singapore. Besides conducting regular Japanese cooking courses, Sinma is currently consulting for the Singapore government in establishing a national training standard for Japanese culinary, a Singapore government funded initiative to provide accredited learning opportunities for the entire food and beverage industry.

Fred, Class of Fall 2001

“I went to California Sushi Academy not only to learn Japanese cuisine but also to learn basic knowledge of restaurant business. The experiences at CSA were very good and they gave me a confidence in what we are doing today as restaurant owners. Even when we are going to fish market, we feel confident in talking with sellers and knowing exactly how to select fresh fish.

The small class-size was great because we were given individual attentions. The training was intense. The internship at Hama restaurant helped a lot as well in terms of learning the basic restaurant operation. Instructors were incredible and very helpful.”

Fred, Class of Fall 2001
Fred is a Bay Area contemporary Japanese restaurant owner