After my third failed attempt at rolling a simple piece of salmon sushi in one hand, I am tempted to throw it down and say: "That's just the way I roll." But this is a cooking class at the renowned Japanese restaurant Nobu, after all, so there is only one way you roll here: and that is with the head sushi chef. Ouchi Masami makes it look effortless, of course, much like Eddie Van Halen might just hammer out a guitar solo while you're struggling to strum a clumsy bar chord. It's hard to have a diva moment, however, because there are so many able staff hovering around to assist.
The restaurant in Dubai's Altantis hotel is offering cooking classes with its master chefs until December, and it's clear why they are the professionals. Whereas my sushi - a few uneven clumps of rice with fish, as well as a cucumber maki - looks like a nursery school project, Masami's is perfection. But this is a lesson in itself, because if you're going to shell out money to eat at Nobu, you might as well come to appreciate the artistry behind it: one piece of sushi takes six "manipulations", Masami explains, cradling the rice in his hand and then flipping it and pressing it into shape under a perfect piece of raw salmon. Then it's off to the kitchen, where the chef de cuisine Herve Courtot demonstrates how to make lobster with wasabi pepper sauce. We learn how to kill a lobster: with a sharp thrust of the knife through the head. Not too many volunteers step forward to try that one. We then learn how to shell it. For the sauce, Courtot teaches us about dashi, a Japanese stock made by boiling kombu, a type of kelp, with bonito (fish) flakes.
What fish is to the sushi bar, butter is to the kitchen: Courtot heats a generous amount of butter in the pan - adding asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, pieces of lobster - and finishing it off with more butter. He asks if anyone wants to taste it: "Yes, chef!" For that almost everyone steps forward, as we do when Nobu's pastry chef demonstrates the signature dessert: a chocolate bento box with green tea ice cream.
Now for the part I've been waiting for: we sit down in the empty restaurant to eat a generous meal of Nobu's popular dishes - black cod with miso, rock shrimp tempura and sushi - thankfully prepared by the chefs and not by yours truly (they give us the sushi we prepared to take home). I can't say I'll set the world on fire with my Japanese cooking, but I leave with a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. And if that's Nobu's plan - to lure people into returning by bringing them closer to the chefs - then I'm hooked, line and sinker.
Mo Gannon Nobu's classes take place on the first Saturday of every month until December. A class costs Dh1,250 per person and includes a three-course lunch. There are only 12 spots available in each. Book by calling 04 426 0760 between 12.30pm and 10pm or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org