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A Day In The Life Of Ichi's Sushi Chef

Yuzu sauce
Yuzu sauce

Here now, another episode of A Day in the Life, wherein Eater goes undercover with a professional in San Francisco's food scene.

[Photos: Eva Frye]

Today we follow Tim Archuleta, chef and owner of Ichi Sushi in Bernal Heights. Archuleta's passion for the craft of sushi was sparked during his years working under Kiyoshi Hayakawa at Tokyo Go Go. Now, 17 years later, it's safe to say this man knows his way around a fish. He opened Ichi, his first restaurant, with his wife Erin in fall of 2010. This is what Tim did on Saturday, July 7th.

7 a.m.: Archuleta arrives bright and early at Pier 45, so he can hand-pick the best fish for the day at ABS Seafood. He runs into Henry Ichinose, the owner, who gives him a walk-through, while talking price and ordering. Archuleta sees a gigantic, deep rose slab of ahi. "Ah. Fresca!" bubbles out of his mouth. "I'll take a quarter of it," he says. A man in full apron, boots, gloves, and a warm hat slices through the meaty, rose fish like butter.

7:15 a.m.: Next they move on to the local albacore. Tim unpacks it from ice and inspects it thoroughly. He opens up the gill flaps. "Fresca!" escapes him again. "Look at that red." Henry explains that not everyone gets to personally select their fish, like Archuleta does. But since they've done business together for 15 years, he trusts him to treat his fish right.

7:30 a.m.: After Archuleta is done picking out his AAA grade uni, the old friends joke around—a lot about fish and business, and a few minutes about that one time years ago when someone got caught stealing a case of uni.

8 a.m.: Now that the early chef caught the fish (or something like that), he heads back home to nap.

11 a.m.: The Inner Richmond's Kamei is on the errand agenda. Ichi neeeds some more kitty chopstick rests, because people keep stealing them.

12:30 p.m.: Heading to the Richmond gives him a chance to order one of his favorites: Clement Dim Sum. He eats a melange of goodies in his car and catches up on NPR.

1:00 p.m.: Next he drops off the kitties at the restaurant and talks to chefs Jake Whitlock and Darren Samuelson about prep for the day.

2:00pm.: Now is when he gets to it! Time to break down fish, something he does with ease, accuracy, and a razor sharp Yoshikane knife. It's a Western style Japanese blade made of SKD steel—steel so strong, it is manufactured just to cut other steel. The thing holds an incredible edge, perfect for slicing thin fish. He fillets a kampachi exactly along the bone line, leaving a pristine cut.

2:00pm.: While cutting, Archuleta explains why he fell in love with this trade,

"I started out because I loved the sushi bar culture: sitting at the bar, in front of the chef, cheersing with sake, but now it's different for me. Sushi is something that you have to do a million times to get absolutely perfect. It is more about patience and doing something over and over again until you perfect it." He goes on about Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a 2011 documentary on the Japanese sushi chef considered by many to be the world's greatest. Even at his 85 years, Jiro works tirelessly to improve the craft he's been mastering all his life. When the movie came out, people buzzed over his work ethic and commitment to perfection. "When I asked my sensei [sushi chef Kiyoshi Hayakawa, who now works at Koo on 5th and Irving] what he thought of the movie, he just said, "it's nothing new to me. I'm Japanese!" and walked off." Tim explains. "Every day you learn something new. Every day you strive to be better than the day before. That is why I love sushi." [**Side note: As briefly touched on earlier, part of Tim's drive to perfection is a commitment to responsible fishing standards. Ichi offers only sustainably caught and sustainably farm-raised fish. "We have to farm fish," he stresses. "And we have to a lot more than we currently are with 7 billion people in the world. To me, it's job security. If there are no fish we'll have a problem. Chicken sushi is not that good," he laughs.]

3:00 p.m.: Tim prepares the rice, made sweeter with sugar and rice wine vinegar at the finish.

4:00 p.m.: Now that the dinner hour nears, he sets up his station and mise en place.

4:30 p.m.: Family meal with the staff. It's cheesesteak Saturday!

5:00 p.m.: Tim goes over menu specials when the servers arrive. His wife, Erin, helps out with some Ichi printing and admin when she's not getting work done for youth writing center and pirate store 826 Valencia, where she serves as director of strategy.

5:15 p.m.: Archuleta's blades must be razor-like to cut through delicate fish. Before service, he and Jake sharpen their knives.

5:30 p.m.: Service starts. The bar instantly has patrons line up, and Tim and Jake slice and dice to order while catching up with the regulars. He speaks more about sushi places that have helped bring sustainability to light in the Bay Area. "I give Tataki a lot of credit—to be able to say that they're fully sustainable. You get people all the time that—no matter what you tell them, like "you're kids won't have bluefin"—they want their eel; they want their bluefin."

11:30 p.m.: His last customers finish up, and he breaks down his station and sushi case. It was a standard Saturday night: around 70 covers in a 23-seat restaurant.

12:00 a.m.: He heads to nearby Rock Bar for a Michters Rye on the rocks, and finishes with an Averna and lime juice shaken over rocks.

1:15 a.m.: Nothing ends his work nights like a little late night dinner, TV, and passing out on the couch with Erin and the dog.

Thanks to all at ICHI who played along with us, and sliced up some fine sushi while doing it.

· All ICHI Sushi Coverage [~ ESF ~]

ICHI Sushi

3369 Mission Street, , CA 94110 (415) 525-4750 Visit Website