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Roseller Pia was devastated when he had to leave engineering school early. The Filipino had always dreamt of becoming a ship-builder. But he was the eleventh of 12 children and his father, a farmer, could no longer afford to pay for his education.

So, at 18, he found a job in Yamato, a Japanese restaurant in Visayas. It was there that he tried his first bite of sushi.

“The first item I tried was a raw fish in vinegar rather than the maki rolls that people often associate with sushi here,” he said.

He started washing pots but became fascinated with sushi-making.

“Like engineering, [sushi-making] has a lot of design elements in it. Sushi chefs have to cook in front of everyone,” he said. “They have to talk with guests and explain things. A lot of guests don't know the difference between nigiri and sashimi.”

Today, he has more than 20 years' experience and has worked in three Japanese restaurants.

He was working in Odessa immediately before he joined L'Oriental Restaurant 11 years ago. Odessa has a relatively mild climate compared with the rest of the Ukraine, but it was cold enough for him.

A former colleague found work in Bermuda and contacted him to say there was a vacancy for a sushi chef.

“Bermuda was more in line with the climate of the Philippines,” he said. “I love Bermuda.”

The 47-year-old particularly loves watching people try sushi for the first time. He said: “Sometimes they are a bit nervous about eating raw fish.

“I love when they bite into sushi and get that look on their face that says it tastes good. Then they ask me for more.”

He also loves customers who demand something “different”.

“The secret is preparation,” he said. “You have to have all your ingredients prepared ahead of time.

“The hardest part is during really busy times when things I prepared ahead of time run out. That's when things get interesting.

“It's also hard if the guest asks for something unique and we don't have that particular ingredient. Living in Bermuda can be challenging in that respect.”

One of his latest challenges was helping to design a sushi catamaran special for an America's Cup promotion at the Bermudiana Road restaurant. To do it, he dug into all his old engineering and design skills.

“We had a banana leaf as a sail, but it kept flopping,” he said. “We finally settled on a bird of paradise leaf. It was sturdier.”

He's fascinated by the America's Cup, although he hasn't had much time to watch the races.

“I'm usually working,” he said.

Despite that, he has enjoyed meeting some of the America's Cup stars. Sir Russell Coutts is a regular at L'Oriental and its sister restaurant, Little Venice. In Mr Pia's spare time, he loves swimming. He said: “I jump into the creek near my house,” he said. “I also enjoy fishing and love night fishing here when I have the time.”

He sometimes provides the fresh fish for the sushi. His speciality is a tuna pizza. He puts raw tuna on top of a pizza and then slices it length ways to make it easier to handle.

“Customers love it,” he said.

He's a little disappointed he's never had the chance to make Fugu. Fugu is made out of puffer fish. He said: “Because it is poisonous, it is very dangerous to make.

“You have to be specially licensed to make it and I'm not. My dream is to have my own Japanese restaurant.”

Fine dining: from left, Khoo Eng “Deric” Hun, David Chow and Roseller Pia of L'Oriental (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Ship shape: the sushi catamaran, with bird of paradise leaf sail, made in honour of the 2017 America's Cup (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Sushi special: the catamaran made in honour of the 2017 America's Cup (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published September 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm (Updated September 16, 2016 at 12:04 pm)

Chef masters the art of sushi

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