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Photographs by Allison Hemler

Though I've never spent more than $20 a person at a sushi restaurant (let Ed Levine curse me down now), I've dreamed of saving even that small amount of money by making sushi at home to resist the temptation of my neighborhood's pork tacos. I also thrive on trying something new.

With both in mind, I took the four hour amateur Mastering Basic Sushi course at the International Culinary Center at the French Culinary Institute, led by Hiroko Shimbo, chef-consultant and author of The Japanese Kitchen and The Sushi Experience.

Upon arriving at the Institute, I was greeted by a warm face who handed over an apron and chef's cap (which you can take home) and directed me to a classroom filled with kitchen assistants, who I assume were all FCI students. Our class of fifteen amateurs received course packets full of recipes, including step-by-step instructions for home-prepared pickled ginger, dashimaki tomago, vegetarian thin rolls, inside-out fish rolls, chirashizushi, and miso soup.

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Step by step, the master at work.

Shimbo, one of the sweetest and most passionate women you will ever meet, detailed the sushi-making process, starting with medium grain white rice cooked in a rice cooker, and combined with vinegar, salt, and sugar. This was the foundation for all of our rolls, which would consist of: pickled jalapeno, shiitake mushrooms, cucumbers, salad greens, pickled daikon, sushi-grade tuna and salmon, scallions and garlic, avocado, and the most entertaining filling of the night, dashimaki tamago, a Japanese omelet made from eggs, dashi (fish stock), mirin (sweet cooking wine), and shoyu (soy sauce). After a demonstration of Shimbo's expert sushi rolling technique, we were sent to our stations to attempt to recreate her effortless artistry.

Assistants were assigned to each table, so someone was always available to ask for help or more ingredients. Everyone started by making their own rolls at their own pace. While the class lacked structure, the laid-back nature provided for one-on-one instruction with Shimbo, a seasoned sushi master, and encouraged experimentation with ingredients. Instantly, I wanted to put the soft and delicate tuna in every roll—instead, I mixed jalapeno with pickled daikon and arugula, and overloaded on sesame seeds. Just because I could.

Clearly, my rolls were less than perfect (you can see my inconsistency in the header photographs). However, after making at least six variations, I gained a bit more confidence in rolling both thin and inside-out rolls.

We ate our own sushi at a feast afterwards, along with Shimbo's own seasonal miso soup and salad (a concoction of sweet and salty brussels sprouts and Swiss chard) and a huge plate of chirashi-zushi, a combination of sushi rice, bamboo shoots, tai sea bream, eggs, julienned nori and ginger, topped with a dressing of kelp stock, sake, sugar, and usukuchi shoyu.

Let it be known that the ICC does not skimp on food or wine, which is welcome after three hours of intense concentration in the kitchen with sharp chef's knives and agile culinary students. Over a PowerPoint presentation on the history of sushi, we clinked glasses and raised our chopsticks while sampling each other's creations.

Shimbo leads "Advanced Sushi Technique" this Friday at the ICC, and Springtime in the Japanese Kitchen on Friday, April 17. Both classes are $195 and have available slots.

About the author: Allison Hemler is a former Serious Eats intern and writes our "Learn It, Don't Burn It" column, a look at the delicious educational opportunities happening in the city each week.

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