A Buddha Belly-fied Team Building

The weeks before our team building has been hush- hush. We were all left wondering, “What’s for team building this time?” The first clue we had was “Wear you comfortable clothes.” Ooh, nerve-racking. Does it mean an endurance tests of sorts (Think the Spartan Race- ouch)? Or will it involve running all over Tokyo again, doing tasks and searching for clues (Last year’s Amazing Race was fantastic and involved an adrenaline rush)? The next clue we had was “Even if you arrive with your heels on, you’ll be fine.” Wait, so does it mean we have to exercise our mental muscle, just like what we had a couple of years ago with the Escape Room…..?

The day of team building came. With still zero idea as to what we were about to do, we just followed our team building organizers, Maryna and Gaelle and we boarded the Oedo Line train. After a 20- minute train ride, we were in an area close to Ueno Park/ Okachimachi. We walked a bit and found a cafe that sold pancakes. Wait, are we making pancakes for team building— okay, I’m not even making any sense here.

But, what followed next did have something to do with cooking. A woman with a warm smile ushered us in an apartment building, cautioning us to keep our voices down as the neighbors might complain. You see, we were a bit excited to find out what on earth was going on- plus having all the teachers and staff in one group is bound to make us chatter away, catching up on life outside work- so her warning was valid. We found ourselves inside a cozy room with chairs surrounding a long table, and a small kitchen. We noticed that the man who welcomed us inside the room both wore a chef’s uniform. This excited some, and worried others, as they were just not as good with cooking- if we were to compare to how well they can wolf down an entire four- course meal. Okay, fine. This author speaks for herself.

Anyway. Our lovely chefs introduced themselves as Ayako- san, and Shugo- san. Chef Shugo- san is an Executive Sushi chef, and Chef Ayako- san is a professional sushi instructor, professional sake sommelier, and a trained cook in the Japanese Kaiseki- style cuisine. Husband and wife have teamed up to open Buddha Bellies, a cooking school dedicated to the art of making sushi. They did a special introduction about sushi, and how it differs between the different regions in Japan.

They gave a demonstration of how to make sushi- properly. It may look easy, as all it involves is rice, seaweed, some bits of vegetables and fish and crab. Roll them all together and you’re done. Wrong.

Ayako- san and her mosaic sushi.

Ayako- san and her mosaic sushi.

The Ohana team eagerly looks on Ayako- san’s demonstration.

The Ohana team eagerly looks on Ayako- san’s demonstration.

First, you have cooked rice put on a bamboo container. Why bamboo? “Because bamboo has antibacterial properties,” Ayako- san said. Then a bit of rice vinegar is poured in it, to give it more flavor. It is mixed together in a gentle, slicing motion, being careful that you don’t mash it. Then, nori is folded into two. Ayako- san said that if the nori sheet easily folds into two, making a crisp, crunching sound, then it is certified fresh. It is then laid out on the bamboo mat, or makisu. Rice is then placed on top of it, careful that there is a two finger- breadth space left at the top, between the rice and nori. Gently place the slices of cucumber, omelette, and sashimi on top, then roll. Roll carefully as if your life depended on it— or else, your sushi will fall apart when you attempt to slice it. After the ingredients have been safely tucked in the warm blanket of rice and nori, slice it into four equal parts. Done. Our professional sushi chefs showed us the finished product, and we clapped, excited to ̶e̶̶a̶̶t̶ make some sushi.

They also showed us how to make a mosaic sushi, which was a bit trickier. The slices of veggies and omelette has to be placed in a certain way, and the roll should be squarish. When the roll is finally done, it was sliced into four equal parts and- wow. The result was definitely beautiful, just like a mosaic.

“This will be one of the challenges that we will give to each group later,” Ayako- san told us. Gulp. Wait, what? Ooh, that is pretty challenging.

Next, they showed us how to make a nigiri, which was a easier to do. First, you gently cup the rice, molding it into a sort- of oval shape. You put the sashimi on top, then gently squeeze them together.

I’ve never seen a team so thrilled to get some rice………

I’ve never seen a team so thrilled to get some rice………

Off we went into our groups. We gathered our ingredients and started to make our maki amidst questions of “Am I doing it right?” and “Wait, what’s the next step?” We then sliced it into four equal parts. We oohed and ahhed when we saw the final product, which was pretty impressive. Some even commented they can have people for dinner, and make sushi for them. Then we made some mosaic sushi- that’s when pandemonium started to descend. From squares falling apart, to triangular shapes instead of squarish, this was a real challenge. Nevertheless, we were able to achieve the mosaic sushi. Another round of oohs and ahhs.

Ayako- san and Shugo- san then announced that the teams have to compete with each other in plating our creations. The teams exchanged looks. Game on.

“Eat. My. Sushi!”

“Eat. My. Sushi!”



Kidding! But, yes, we are very competitive outside the classroom. We started decorating our plates, making sure they all fit together. If they didn’t, we just took one for the team and ate a maki or two. Yes, I’m looking at you Kai and Nimo. Such noble sacrifices they made for their teams.

Time’s up and we’re done! From the looks of it, all the teams did a wonderful job. Seems like an Ohana Sushi Bar is in the cards. Our judges deliberated, and Team 2 won the challenge! Shelley, Maryna, Kai, Nimo, and Pauline erupted into cheers, as other teams pelted them with the remaining tamago and cucumber. Okay, I’m kidding again- I just want to put some theatrics and dramatics into this story. Plus, because we are teachers, a food fight is a big no- no; we can practically hear ourselves in our teacher voices, “Please use good table manners.”

Team 3’ s beautiful plating.

Team 3’ s beautiful plating.

A pretty sample of Team 1’s plating skills.

A pretty sample of Team 1’s plating skills.

The winning team’s nigiri platter.

The winning team’s nigiri platter.

We rewarded ourselves by scarfing down all our sushi amidst friendly banter and chatter. Yum. I wonder what’s in store for our next team building? This author is hoping with all her heart that we will be cooking some ramen.

A  belly  happy Ohana team!

A belly happy Ohana team!