Ask any restaurateur in Vancouver what the hardest part of business is in this city and they're likely to tell you it's getting the right permits to operate. So after the internet was all abuzz with news of Naked Sushi, a "group of hospitality professionals" who've hit town from Toronto keen to give us Vancouverites a nyotaimori experience that is "second to none" we had to wonder how they'd managed to get a permit to serve up raw fish from a naked body. Ah yeah, nyotaimori - according to Naked Sushi's website - a "Japanese art form in traditional style' serving sashimi or sushi from the body of of a nude woman - except you'd be hard-pressed to find this happening in anything but the sketchiest of bars in Japan. In fact, according to Tokyo Vice writer Jake Adelstein even the yakuza "view the whole thing as a little much". But still the myth that Japan is a hotbed of naked sushi dining persists and is sold on as such to wide-eyed westerners eager for a cheap fish-based thrill.
So: how do you get licensed to serve up raw fish from a living human platter? According to Vancouver Coastal Health Senior Media Relations Officer, Anna Marie D'Angelo, you don't. "The licensing inspectors enforce food safety provincial regulations and it would be doubtful that something like that would be approved because of the risk of food-borne illness." D'Angelo told Eater on the phone. " People in BC and Vancouver have high expectations that they won't become ill when they dine out. The regulations are set up to protect the public. A basic rule is that cold food needs to be cold and hot food, hot . Operators must have working dish washers, fridges at the correct temperature, clean premises and things of that nature. Operators must draw up food safety plans that go over in detail how all food items are sourced, stored and used."
So how can Naked Sushi legally operate? We spoke with their executive chef Mike Keenan to find out.
From speaking to Vancouver Coastal Health we understand that they haven't done any checks on any businesses serving up body sushi. Do you have a license for this?
Of course, I have a food permit, and we are federally incorporated, we have got a City of Vancouver business license.
So, how did you manage to get a permit to serve raw fish on a naked body?
It's kind of a loophole where we're not really producing it, but we are. I guess the technicality is that we're producing it in someone else's facility and we're being invoiced by them, so we are making it ourselves but with someone else's ingredients in their kitchen. They invoice us for the use of the product and that's the agreement that we have - we get a wholesale rate.
Which kitchen are you using?
I'm in someone's restaurant. I can't really go into that, partially because there is a little bit of a stigma within the Japanese population about naked sushi. It's kind of a 50/50 split on what they think. Part of the deal was that I keep his name out of it.
It's not really a traditional Japanese thing now either, is it? It's much more popular in the west.
It was something that was really big in the 15th and 16th century, samurais would go out and do battle, then that's how they'd celebrate.
So do you do this in a venue?
We're strictly off-premises: we go to people's houses or offices.
How busy have you been so far?
Since we launched in the last month and a bit it's been pretty steady but in the last 24 hours I must have had about 200 emails. I'm working my way through them. There seems to be a very positive reaction and it's really helped with recruitment.
Do you feel that people need to have food concerns about eating raw fish off a warm body?
It's like when you go to a sushi bar and the food is on the little tracks floating around the room. It's generally got a 30 minute shelf life at room temperature, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. Considering this stuff is on the body for about five or ten minutes it doesn't affect it; it doesn't go directly on the body it's actually sitting on sanitised leaves, it's not touching the skin.
Vancouver Coastal Health requested more information about the operator before they could comment further.
· Naked Sushi [Official Site]
· All Previous Controversies [EVAN]