It’s all about the rice.

“I really do believe the reason people start to like sushi is the rice, not the fish,” says SMC Community Ed instructor Nikki Gilbert, aka The Sushi Girl. The secret to good sushi is the subtly vinegared rice, she posits.

And Gilbert reveals her secrets when teaching classes or hosting sushi making parties. And when she caters meals, her diners might not know the secrets of her cuisine, but they like what they taste.

Gilbert has the perfect resume for sushi chef and teacher. A native of Venice, she stumbled upon a passion for Japanese food in her teens while working at Mikasa, a favorite restaurant from her childhood.

She moved on to college, first at SMC and later at UC Berkeley, and took her enthusiasm for all food things Japanese and talked her way into a job as the only non-Japanese speaking employee at a sushi bar in Berkeley. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Ethnic Studies, she moved to Kitakyushu City, Japan where she was hired by the prestigious Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme, which is aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations. She found a home away from home in a local yakitori (a Japanese type of skewered chicken) bar and spent three years “soaking up every ounce of Japanese culture possible,” she says.

Through Sushi Girl®, Gilbert has taught ten of thousands of people to make sushi for themselves, including some of the world’s most famous celebrities. She has worked and trained in sushi bars in both the U.S. and Japan, including the renowned Masazushi in Otaru. She speaks enough Japanese to get by and says she likes to go to Japan about once a year.

Gilbert is something of a purist when it comes to sushi – she makes it light and simple and fresh.

What are some of the trends in sushi making?

There are always things that surprise me – like putting wasabi on sushi as if it’s frosting and then ginger and soy. Others have created southeast or Latin flavors. And then there are sushi burritos, but you’re missing all the subtleties.

Is sushi making an art?

I know some people think it’s an art, but for all foods, presentation is the art. I like practicality with design, function with form. In other words, I like all presentation to enhance the taste of the food, not the artistic expression of the food as still life.

What is one of the main fallacies about making sushi?

That you have to make rice for 10 years before you can touch fish.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Netflix & a couch

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

That I make the best sushi rice.

What was the last picture you took with your phone?

People decorating the Rose Parade floats.

What book(s) are on your nightstand now?

“The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg”

Nikki Gilbert will teach a three-hour workshop, “Sensational Sushi – Level 1,” on March 3.

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