Several things I learned whilst running my not entirely legal seafood eatery

Posted: April 7, 2014 in Fish

An important part of life is sitting back and reflecting; considering our past achievements, mulling over our failures and wincing at the embarrassments. Only by doing this can we hope to develop ourselves as people, move past our mistakes, and generally improve our characters.

Therefore, now that the dust has settled, fires have been extinguished, certain countries have been fled and certain new names used, I think it is only right to reflect on how I could have improved my  Sushi Experience.

1) Have literally any experience running any sort of catering establishment whatsoever.


This is a surprisingly important point. It turns out running a restaurant is surprisingly hard work. For a start, did you know that generally diners prefer to eat inside in March in England? Incredibly, this is the case. In addition, it turns out waiters are a pretty crucial ingredient in the whole ‘restaurant’ thing; and desperately hiring some homeless tramps fifty minutes after opening really does not help matters.


Generally, if you pay your employees in wages measured by the liter, something is wrong somewhere.


2) Do not serve poisonous food.


Again, this is one of those little tips that could have helped me had I known it before. For example, it turns out that Takifugu, a genus of pufferfish, is massively poisonous. This, it turns out, is because is contains the toxin Tetrodotoxin, which is rather astonishingly toxic. It blocks certain types of sodium ion channels, stopping action potentials from being transmitted from nerve cell to nerve cell. You only need to swallow twenty five miligrams (or twenty five thousandths of a gram) to die from it. (If it is injected, you need even less – barely .5 of a miligram; the lethal dose by injection is between 8-20 ug per kg of tissue, going by bioassays on mice. For comparison you need 10,000 ug of cyanide per kg of body tissue to be lethal).

Although the amount of toxin in each fish varies considerably, depending on the exact species, its location, and the health of the fish, it is generally considered an extremely bad idea to eat the parts of the fish that contain this toxin. Every year there are several dozen incidents of this fish poisoning people who eat it, and between 0-10 deaths. Indeed, it is actually forbidden to sell this fish inside the EU.


So really, yes, it was a bad idea to serve this, and only this, fish, from moral, practical and legal standpoints.


3) If you are going to serve potentially lethal fish make sure you take precautions.


Despite this, eating food made from pufferfish (known as fugu in Japan) is quite common and can be safe, so long as the chef knows what he is doing. ‘Knows what he is doing’ in this case means completing a seven year training course, in which he learns which parts of the fish are edible and which are deadly, concluding with a terminal (potentially in multiple meanings of the word) exam in which he must prepare and eat fugu himself. Fugu itself, when served raw (sashimi) is said to have a very subtle, light texture and a slightly chewy consistency, although it can also be served deep fried, in a soup, or even in sake. Apparently, eating it often gives a slight tingling on the lips, which is caused by a very small amount of the toxins (although there does seem to be some dispute around this; with some saying that this an urban myth). Because nothing completes a dining experience like a near death experience, I guess.


Sadly, all the time spent arranging this meant less time getting rid of the toxic bits, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Actually, we just can’t make omelettes full stop.


Anyway, whilst fugu prepared by an experienced chef is pretty much perfectly safe, fugu prepared by a drunkard I hired off the street and trained in less than seven minutes, most of which were spent watching the below Youtube video, is slightly less so.


Know what to do if something goes wrong.

As you will have guessed from the above, a customer, incredibly, did get poisoned by our meal. It turns out there are several schools of thought regarding what to do at this juncture.

For example, what I did was the following.

I) Panic

II) Panic some more

III) Figure out who to blame for this whole fiasco, and settling on the waiter who a) thought he was Jesus and b) couldn’t speak English

IV) Restart panicking.

V) Stop panicking.

VI) Start panicking again

VII) Fake my own death in a needlessly elaborate strategy, move to [CENSORED] and start a new life as a hermit.

This is, to my mind, a valid course of action. However, a more conventional approach might be to 

I) Re-assure the patient (sorry, ‘customer’)

II) Call the Emergency Services

III) Cease service and refund all customers 

IV) Ensure that the patient is fed activated charcoal (which binds to the toxin) and kept on life support whilst the poison breaks down.

V)Accept responsibility for my actions.

Know what the symptoms are.

Again, a useful step in either dodging or taking responsibility is knowing when to dodge or take said responsibility. If a customer complains of a heavy numbness around the lips, that’s usually a bad sign; . Nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting are even worse signs; as they generally are in restaurants. If symptoms persist to difficulty in breathing, paralysis, and a sense of numbness so acute that the victim feels that they are floating, it is probably time to call 999 or, alternatively, root around for the fake passport you keep for this sort of eventuality. Eerily, consciousness can be maintained until near-death, meaning that they will have plenty of time to consider all the many, many, many, many ways they’ll break up with their idiotic boyfriend who took them to this suspiciously cheap restaurant. 

On a romantic date, choose dishes that cost more than a chocolate bar. Also, choose dishes not prepared by myself or anyone I’ve trained.

Know what not to say.

Examples of bad things to say include:

“I am the owner and operator of this establishment, with all of the attendant legal responsibilities and liabilities.”

“Hey, hot stuff. Notice your boyfriend was so cheap he took you here. Hey about you ditch him?”

“Okay, customers. Remember, if the police visit, this is technically a theatrical production and not a restaurant.”

“Did you know it is not actually the fish that is toxic, but symbiotic bacteria that produce the toxin? Examples of this include bacteria in the genus Pseudomonas, Vibrio (which of course, also includes the bacterium which causes cholera) and Pseudoalteromas tetraodonis.”


In fact, avoid mentioning the word ‘cholera’ to any customer of your restaurant as a matter of course.










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