How to become Fugu Chefs

Fugu chefs in Japan are considered the elite of Japan's highly competitive culinary world. In 1948, restrictions were imposed on the need to be licensed to serve or sell fugu to avoid tetrodotoxin poisoning, a practice that persists to this day. Today, fugu can be eaten in a licensed restaurant, and fugu cannot be prepared and sold without the appropriate licence from the State.

Most fugu chefs start as apprentices in the kitchen at the age of 15. Training takes at least two years, some as long as three depending on the city, and they can take the practical test at 20, when they become of age in Japan. In the process of learning how to remove organs, apprentices clean more than 200 fish and spend thousands of dollars of money just learning how to clean fugu fish.

Fugu cook licences are awarded to those who pass a fugu exam, usually after having completed an apprenticeship under someone who is already qualified. Fugu cooking licences are issued by local authorities (municipalities), so the content of the exam and the apprenticeship may vary from region to region. The fugu cook's exam is divided into two parts, a written test and a practical test. The written part tests the regulations concerning the handling of fugu and general knowledge of fugu fish.

The practical test consists of a test to identify the species of fugu and a second part in which they have to identify the edible and inedible parts of the fish after studying them, before removing the toxic parts, cooking the fugu, peeling the skin and finally making the fugu dish. The pupils then have to eat the dish they have prepared. If the candidate passes the exams, he/she is awarded a licence and becomes a respected fugu chef. However, only 35% of the candidates who apply are granted a licence. The high price of fish encourages chefs to cut the fish very carefully to get the maximum amount of meat. To clean and prepare the fish, fugu chefs also use a special knife called a fugu hiki, which is usually stored separately from other knives.

Fugu is usually served as sashimi in very thin slices, although it can also be deep-fried, baked or served in a salad.

Most fugu in Japan is consumed in Osaka. Western Japan is a leading production area, so fugu has long been available there at an affordable price and is a popular delicacy. This part of Japan is also home to two Michelin-starred pufferfish speciality restaurants, where unique fugu dishes are prepared. During the season, fugu fish can also be found in supermarkets. Fugu is also widespread in America, most notably in New York, where it can be found in some of the better Japanese restaurants, but with some restrictions, and must be prepared by a licensed chef. Today, fish farms in Japan are trying to breed fugu fish that are farmed and non-toxic.

Fugu is a well-known and notorious fish all over the world, but the Japanese say it is very safe to eat if prepared by a properly licensed chef. However, its toxicity puts it on the list of the 10 most dangerous and daring culinary delights in the world. There is a huge interest in fugu fish in the wider world, and almost every tourist tries it when visiting Japan.