Acclaimed sushi maestro Jiro Ono, who in May served up delicacies for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama, has warned of an imminent sea change in the availability of ingredients due to overfishing.
“I can’t imagine at all that sushi in the future will be made of the same materials we use today,” the 89-year-old chef told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday.
Ono owns the tiny Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant — which has three Michelin stars and has been described as the world’s best sushi establishment — and was the subject of a 2011 documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
“I told my young men three years ago sushi materials will totally change in five years,” he added. “And now, little by little, such a trend is becoming reality.”
Ono referred in particular to a shortage of high-quality domestic tuna, which has prompted sushi dealers in Japan to source Atlantic bluefin varieties instead.
His eldest son, Yoshikazu, 53, who helps Ono run the restaurant, said growing demand for tuna amid a global sushi boom is leading the domestic industry to depend more and more on farmed fish.
The younger Ono also warned of a shrinking stock of highly prized shellfish such as abalone and ark shell, species that need more than five years to mature.
He blamed the comprehensive harvesting of immature juveniles along with the more sustainable adults.
“They catch them all together, pushing the stock to deplete,” he said.
The basement restaurant, which seats just 10 at a counter, opened its doors in a commercial building in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1965 and has remained there ever since.
Its fame centers in part on Ono’s famed rigid discipline and pursuit of perfection, earning three Michelin stars every year since 2007, the year the Tokyo edition of the gourmet guide was launched.
About 70 percent of the restaurant’s customers, who pay an eyebrow-raising base price of ¥30,000 for a set of 20 pieces of sushi, are now said to be foreigners.
When Obama traveled to Tokyo last April, he joined a long list of celebrity guests. Past diners have included French master chef Joel Robuchon and celebrites Hugh Jackman and Katy Perry.
When Obama and Abe arrived they went straight into “business-like talks” focusing on trade. As they spoke, the senior Ono served up his selection of 20 pieces, the way he treats any ordinary diner, his son said.
“He (Obama) seemed to like ‘chu-toro’ (medium fatty tuna) very much because he winked when he ate it.”
“The president ate them all,” the younger Ono added, apparently in reference to reports the president had stopped halfway through the meal. Ono praised the way Obama skillfully tackled the delicacies.
“He said three times: ‘This is the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life.’ “