Speaking from his home in cherry-blossomed Tokyo, Voltaire Cang narrated a gorgeous portfolio of the 400 year history of shichimi, the colorful blend of seven spices that can be found in every Japanese home. Whether in the colorful red tin jars or gourd-shaped containers (the round shape signifying fecundity and wealth), shichimi is casually added at table to each diner’s taste, and is especially used with meats. The exact ingredients can vary, but will always include chili, sesame, poppyseed, and nori, and it is a product that can be purchased in shops in Tokyo that date back to the 17th century. Each shichimi shokunin (master artisan) has his proprietary blend, although he will make bespoke versions for valued clients.
Voltaire also shared his first-hand view into the current debates within Japan about what it takes to be a sushi shokunin: traditionalists (remember “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”?) believe that it takes ten years to master sushi preparation, while a new generation of young Japanese cooks are opening sushi restaurants (with the backing of well-heeled investors) after an eight week crash course at a “sushi academy.” Determined to research this trend, and unable to travel during the pandemic, Voltaire enrolled in one of the academies last summer. His verdict? He has a new respect for the skills required to be a sushi shokunin.