A Programmer's Guide to Sushi

by Brad Schiller
in Feeding the Machines
A Programmer's Guide to Sushi
A Programmer's Guide to Sushi

Irasshaimase! Over the years, I have noticed that a majority of the automated lighting programmers I know also enjoy eating sushi. There are, of course, some exceptions, but I feel pretty confident in saying that most do. It actually makes sense if you think about it; there are many similarities between the raw fish cuisine and the craft of programming automated lighting. The skill of the chef, the varieties of available options, the creativity and more all align between the two very different topics. Since I personally love sushi and programming, I feel it is time to really compare the two.

‡‡         Perfection

Similar to the way we have broad range of programmer’s with different skills, there are many different types of sushi chefs. Some study their craft for years in Japan, while others simply watch a YouTube video and believe they have all the knowledge they need. Those who learn and refine their skill work at high dollar establishments, while the others spend their time at mall sushi kiosks always talking about how they will some day cut fish at Katsuya.

A great sushi chef knows more than how to handle a knife and roll chunks of fish in rice. To truly create awesome plates of sushi, the chef must understand how to select the freshest fish, keep his knifes sharp and continually study the art of the cuisine to allow for improvements. The chef also knows that better opportunities come with time and skill. The more fish he/she cuts, the more chances of greater success will come.

‡‡         Tools of the Trade

An automated lighting programmer typically works with three primary types of fixtures, while there are also many extraneous types that he/she will encounter. In most cases we are working with wash fixtures, spot fixtures and beam/hybrid fixtures. Much in the same way, the sushi chef works with sushi (fish placed on rice), sashimi (raw cuts of fish) and maki (rolls of rice, fish and other ingredients). Each of these various types of sushi require unique skills to create tasty plates for the customers.

The sushi bar, knives, makisu (bamboo mat used to create rolls) and other tools are very similar to the lighting console we use to create lighting looks. The chef must maintain these items as well as be proficient in the use of each to achieve the desired output. He/she is responsible for knowing which tools to use at which moment, and working directly with his/her hands is an essential skill.

‡‡         Workflow

When programming a show, we must first prepare the console, and then work with the various fixtures to create looks and finally create a method of playback of those looks. Believe it or not, the sushi chef follows a very similar workflow. First, he has to prepare the sushi bar, his knives and the fish. He must select the perfect cuts of fish and prep them for sushi making. All of this is analogous to setting up a console and patching in the fixtures.

Next, the sushi chef will receive an order from the customer. This tells him exactly which fish to cut and into what style of sushi. Just as an LD will describe a look and we will use the various fixtures to create that look, the sushi chef is taking the order and creating a plate of food. The chef then uses his tools and skills to create the order in the best way possible. The chef will often impart some creativity within the rolls, or at least in how the items are placed on the serving dish. Finally, the food is delivered to the customer. Whether playing back a lighting look or placing a block of wood with expertly cut fish in front of a customer, both cases can bring awe to the eye of the recipient.

Often in the case of sushi or sashimi, if the fish is fresh and properly cut, the customer will not even notice or think about the skill that went into preparing the meal. In some cases, with unique rolls, the customer may experience something that stands out as amazing, but generally the work of a particular sushi chef goes unnoticed by the average customer. As you can see, this is very similar to good automated lighting programming. When done properly, our work is often a small part of the entire performance and should not stand out above the primary attraction.

‡‡         Fixture Types

As you are aware, we have a large variety of fixture types from various manufacturers at our disposal. The budget will often dictate which fixtures we get and the quality of said fixtures. The same holds true for the types of fish that a sushi chef gets to work with. The fish served at your local grocery store sushi counter will usually be a lower quality (and cost) than the sushi served at a fancy restaurant on the Vegas Strip. For instance, you can get a spicy tuna roll at Safeway for $4.99 instead of paying $14 at Mizumi at the Venetian. I can guarantee, though, that you will like the Mizumi roll better than the Safeway roll. Much in the same way, we have all worked with cheap fixtures that just did not do justice compared to their expensive counterparts.

However, there are, of course times when the most expensive lighting fixture is not worth the money, and again this is true for sushi also. I have paid anywhere between $4 to $20 each for a slice of otoro, and often, the less expensive cuts are better. In fact, many of the best sushi places are not the famous chef-owned places. Instead, the smaller mom & pop strip-mall sushi is the freshest and best option. Have you ever seen where a small lighting shop provides better fixtures than a big corporate-owned shop? While it is not always the case, there are similarities here, too. But please, always avoid mall, airport and big-box retailer-made sushi at all costs!

As I said earlier, sushi, sashimi and maki are the three main types of food served from a sushi bar. Each has their own style and purpose as well as skill required to make them look and taste great. They all require knowledge of fish and preparation, but each has its own characteristics too. I know that when it comes to lighting that I enjoy working with spot fixtures more than washes, and that the potential for creativity with beam/hybrid fixtures greatly exceeds that of simple wash lights. This is probably why I prefer sashimi and creative rolls over standard pieces of sushi, or traditional rolls too.

‡‡         My Favorites

Lighting programmers tend to have their favorite type of looks to create as well as common fixtures to use over and over. I find the same goes for both creating and eating sushi. Luckily for the sushi chefs, there are no new fish being created every year as there are with lighting fixtures. However, there is always room for creativity using the standard tools and creating new flavors and dishes.

I love salmon sashimi, spicy tuna rolls, otoro, soft-shell crab and many other ingredients. Over time, I have learned to like different things such as uni, wasabi tobiko, crispy rice, scallops and more. Just like lighting, there is a vast selection and room for many flavors and chefs. If you are just starting out and creating rolls at a small restaurant, keep working, and in time, you can move up to the fancy place down the street. If you work hard enough, you can even create sushi in your own restaurant one day!

Remember that sushi chefs take years to hone their skills, and the great ones never stop learning. The next time you are busy programming, be sure to take a break to get some fresh sushi. This way you can experience for yourself how similar the craft of the sushi chef is to yours. Domo arigatou gozaimasu!

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