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Meet Chef James Holder, the Master Sushi Chef of El Paseo

Master Sushi Chef James Holder

There’s a hidden gem in Palm Desert. A Master Sushi Chef from Japan, who lives in San Diego and makes his way to the desert three times a week to bring an authentic flare to a local restaurant on El Paseo.

Eye on the Desert’s Caitlin Thropay takes us behind the sushi bar to meet the man who is one of the best sushi chefs in the world.

“It’s basically a tuck and roll system and the plastic wrap helps it roll easier," Master Sushi Chef and Part-owner of Mitch's on El Paseo, James Holder said.

“Tighten the roll, bring it down and then push the sides in,” he showed us how to make the perfect sushi roll.

At Mitch’s on El Paseo is where Chef Holder’s passion and patience make sushi art.

“This trade is a dying trade," he said.

The 55-year-old started cutting fish when he was 13 years old with his uncle who owns a sushi bar in Japan. Holder moved to the United States at 21 years old.

“After I left Japan, I went to college in San Diego and I couldn’t get a job anywhere so I started looking at Japanese restaurants,” he said.

It was during his time at a sushi bar at the Hyatt in La Jolla he apprenticed under a Master Chef.

“My Master served the Prime Minister of Japan and then you apprentice under different chefs and you take the knowledge and they reward you to become a Master Sushi Chef,” he said.

The process of becoming a Master takes many years.

“It’s very difficult and very time consuming and you have to dedicate yourself 100 percent," he said.

The rice alone takes at least three years to perfect.

Today, Chef Holder works with dozens of apprentices to pass down his knowledge to the next generations of sushi chefs.

“I tell all my chefs if you have a chance, go to Japan,” he said.

Even though he is now the teacher, he still visits Japan every year to learn more.

“I learn every year," he said. "I visit many sushi bars and then I try to see what they do differently over there," he added. "Last year, I went and I noticed they were torching the sushi and that’s something I wanted to do too because it gives it a smoky flavor,” he said.

“This way of torching sushi is called Aburi so you torch one side and then you torch the other side,” he explained while demonstrating.

When you meet Chef Holder, not only do you see his extreme talent but also his tremendous humility.

“I think the Masters are the people that support me," he said. "They are the Masters that keep me going,” he added.

Eye on the Desert / Eye on the Desert / Lifestyle / News / News Headlines

Caitlin Thropay

Caitlin Thropay is the Weekend Morning Anchor and Lifestyle Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3, The Desert’s News Leader. Learn more about Caitlin here.

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