During my first days of apprenticeship in a traditional Japanese restaurant, I was surprised by the noticeable lack of electrical outlets on the walls of the small Osaka kappo eatery. This scarcity soon proved not to be a problem given the dearth of small electric appliances that dominate professional kitchens in the West. In fact there was not a single electric appliance, save the refrigerator. No Cuisinart, no Braun mixer, no Buffalo chopper, no Robocoup mixer . . .

Cutting-edge tools of the trade RICK LAPOINTE PHOTOS

No, behind the counter of my small kaiseki restaurant, raw food materials were peeled, chopped, sliced, minced and julienned the old-fashioned way — by hand. In Japan, even the most menial task is pounded out by hand. This is done to sharpen up your skills as well as your knife — the habit of "ude o migaku" (lit. polishing one's arm) is the measure of an exceptional cook. This ability to produce detailed work by hand stands out as one of the main differences between young cooks in the West and young cooks and apprentices on this side of the Pacific.

Long before — sometimes years before — chefs in Japan are allowed to break down and filet fish, they are required to hone their skills on daikon, carrots, cucumbers and mushrooms. When the opportunity to handle fish finally arrives, young cooks are more than ready to make the precise cuts required so the sashimi may be presented beautifully, a feast for the eyes and for the palate.