Joseph Murphy with Chef Akira Fujiwara, founder of Bistro Peekaboo Sushi. The name of the restaurant is carved in Japanese into the sign behind them.
When Joseph Murphy took a job as a dishwasher at the Bistro Peekaboo Sushi six years ago he didn't even know the place existed. Born and raised in Tsawwassen, the last he'd heard the place had burned down in the spot where the Century Group Southlands model home is today.
But the sushi bar, which has been a mainstay in the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall for 16 years, not only survived the fire, it has since thrived into one of the most popular places to eat in Sunny Tsawwassen.
An aspiring musician, Joseph took the job as a temporary measure after high school and has since found himself an unlikely apprentice as a sushi chef under the tutelage of the owner, Akira Fujiwara, a master sushi chef from Tokyo, Japan. Joseph's training has slowly but surely made him a capable preparer of many of the menu items customers order such as Nigiri, Sashimi and Maki.
"But the real skill is not making the sushi you see when you eat it," says Joseph. "It's the prep work done by Chef Fujiwara. In Japan, the apprenticeship to reach his level is about 10 years," he says, before adding with a smirk, "I still screw up the rice sometimes."
Bistro Peekaboo Sushi is one of three Japanese restaurants in close proximity to one another, the others being Edo-Ya and Nikko, both across 56 th Street. Joseph says what sets Peekaboo apart is that the restaurant is Japanese-owned and most ingredients are imported specially from Japan. As well, all the food is visible at the bar and customers can come up and chat with him or the other employees about what kind of fish are available and how they're prepared by Chef Fujiwara.
"I might say something like, we've got this delicious flank of red tuna otoro for you to try. There are loyal customers that have become relationships."
Those relationships include friendships with his Japanese coworkers, Toru Sato and husband and wife team Yori and Riwa Hattori. His conversations with them has taught him more than just sushi, enriching his knowledge about Japanese traditions. The Hatoris taught him about Tenrikyo, a relatively new religion started by a 19th-century Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki.
"That is not something I realized would happen by working at Peekaboo Sushi, that I would become exposed to Japanese language, culture and religion all at the same time."
Chef Fujiwara, who lives in Ladner, has forged relationships as well. When he sought medical treatment for his eye at Precision Eye Care, also located in the mall, the employees there began eating at his restaurant once a week.
One of Joseph's favourite things about his job is speaking with kids who come into the sushi bar to learn about the food.
"They'll say, 'What's this? What's that? Oh, I love this one', and they're pointing at the yellow brick tamagoyaki. 'Oh, gross, fish eggs!'" says Joseph, laughing. "I think I actually converted a kid one time when I said, so chicken eggs are cool but fish eggs aren't?"
Joseph says Bistro Peekaboo Sushi isn't just a place to come in and shovel food down and leave. Customers are welcome to come in and chat about sushi, about music, about philosophy... about anything!