As I had traveled recently more and more frequently throughout the entire United States or just the western region, I find that I have been enjoying the benefits of being retired military. Shopping in the Commissaries and Exchanges has long been something that my wife and I have enjoyed for some 30 years. Now that I have a son in the Army, it has given me the opportunity, while visiting him, to explore other bases and their Commissaries and Exchanges.
One thing that has been enjoyed by the military in San Diego, has been the addition of Sushi Man (lighten up Fransis, it’s just a name) in the Commissaries. Sushi Man has been there now for several years; but it wasn’t until traveling to installations in Oklahoma and Texas, that I began realize that Sushi Man was bigger than I thought. Now I have to question the word Commissary. Just what is a Commissary? And just who is Sushi Man?
Having been through culinary school I had learned that the word commissary is used in reference to a fully permitted and licensed kitchen capable of revenue. Hence the term “culinary kitchen”. But the term in the military refers to the store on base that sells groceries for your kitchen. That is where the term had it’s beginning; as a place where provisions were stored and replenished. When I was in the military, I had always thought it to be just the name of the place on every installation, like a Safeway or a Ralphs supermarket. When blending the definitions and understanding what food trucks must return to every night for replenishment, I have come to the understanding that the word Commissary all mean the same thing, a place for provisions. And on a military installation the word Commissary means a place to get Sushi Man. He’s the guy on the right, just past the sandwich shop.
Now why might we call this place to get various assortments of Sushi, Sashimi and Nigiri, Sushi Man? Making reference, of course, to the guy actually making the Sushi. Because almost every time it is a male making the Sushi. This dates back many many years to ancient times when the sushi was made only by men. It wasn’t until most recently in the last maybe 15 years that women had begun to enter the sushi profession on the culinary side of the house. Women are now more readily accepted, and some are highly praised, in Sushi kitchens in some of the finest restaurants throughout the world (See Niki Nakayama on the Netflix series Chef’s Table); and now we may begin to understand why he might be called Sushi Man.
I’ve previously written about passing through some USO stations when at airports, and I have written about enjoying some of the finest beaches in Southern California; all on military installations. But, I haven’t, until yet, realized that Sushi could now exist in many of the Commissaries throughout the military, in all branches of service, including overseas; and Sushi Man enjoys making daily sushi for the military, their families and us retired military living and working on these bases.
The Commissaries are run by the Defense Commissary Agency (DECA), which is headquartered at Fort Lee, VA which operate a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Having always (for the most part) worked on a military base, I have seen this name change or morph over the years. “The biggest and most important change came 25 years ago. Before Oct. 1, 1991, each military service ran its own commissary system. But as of that date, for the first time all four commissary systems were managed by a single organization: the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), which will observe its 25th birthday on Oct. 1, 2016.” I stole that one from https://www.commissaries.com/about-us/anniversary/index.cfm.
I first found Sushi Man afar when I recently traveled to Lawton/Fort Sill, OK seeking food to take on our day trip to the highest spot near Fort Sill. We stopped at the Commissary that morning to get some road food and decided to take Sushi Man on our day’s drive because we had an ice chest. It didn’t last long because my youngest son devoured it before we got to the top, about a 30-minute drive. So that was Ft. Sill.
We happened to fly into and out of Wichita Falls, TX and rent a car to get us to Fort Sill. That enabled us to visit Sheppard Air Force Base, TX on the way back from our second visit with my now Army son who was continuing to pursue his dreams in Oklahoma. We tell him often that he should never desire to rush out of California. He is now beginning to agree. Even at Shepard Air Force Base, we had some extra time before our flight out of Wichita Falls and found Sushi Man there as well, but I did not stop to try this time.
As we now take yet another serious road trip to again chase our Army soldier, this time driving his truck to him on a long weekend. We now found ourselves in the Commissary at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX when we again introduced our Soldier to the sandwich shop in that commissary. And alas, there he was again. Sushi Man. And again, he was just past the sandwich shop on the right. This time Sushi Man was making the exact same fare at this facility in the Commissary, but just in a smaller shop . . . so I ordered some up again, and you know what; it tastes just as fresh at each location I have enjoyed it. It’s good to know that I, and our military, can have the opportunity most people consider, a healthy cuisine option.
Another trip took us to Oak Harbor, WA again to see some very dear friends and attend my first Navy squadron reunion with VA-95, The Green Lizards. Wow, that was really super great to see my old shipmates from the single squadron I had been with while in the military, that I had remained friends with over the years; so many of my most trustworthy and flight-deck-bonded friends I had made while in the Navy.
We were in the Seattle area for nine days and made several runs to the Whidbey Island NAS Commissary. Sushi Man was there. I’m telling ya, Sushi Man is everywhere.
While in the Seattle area we got to make a trip to Pike Place for yet another round of “gotta-do’s” while visiting. I bought some fish and, reluctantly, decided to later that day, buy Penn Cove muscles. I say reluctantly because I had just seen the muscles at Costco for $2.99/lb in San Diego, and they were $4.99/lb in the town that farms them. Anyway, I did my share of cooking and eating up there. We always have to make a trip to Seabolts in Oak Harbor. They are always good. And it’s not a day unless we were helping out in the kitchen with “Hol” and learning some southern cooking from her.
While staying with Hol, her friend had called and I somehow got lassoed into their phone call about flavor affinities for her meal that she was catering. I guess this lady, I was told, has been catering for years and even said the flavors she had always introduced at her events, seemed to become less appealing over time. I somehow fascinated this lady as I had recommended she purchase the book “The Flavor Bible” to help her out in the future. I had also sent a copy to Hol since she too became fascinated in the ability this book gives chefs.
So while at my reunion party, I had been carefully (thanks Rudy) placed next to one of my Commanding Officers, and “one of my VA-95 hero’s” wife. Perhaps I had previously met her some 25 years ago at one of the many squadron Christmas parties or functions. I think that’s what had bonded us “Lizards” was our ability really party hard. I had partied for many years in the Navy, but this combat-proven group was more special. We worked hard on the flight decks of aircraft carriers together and ‘made things happen’ repeatedly. So for that, a toast. Anyway, part of the toast allowed me to meet the lady sitting next to me. Carol Dearth, the CO’s wife, has been a well renowned Chef in the Seattle area for many years. Here is her link: http://www.thesizzleworks.com/about-sizzleworks/about-carol/. She was pleasantly surprised that one of her husband’s flight deck mechanics had completed culinary school. She was interested in my writing about customer experiences. I noticed she didn’t eat much of our function food either that night. We talked a lot. She knows many Chef-educators and promised to help me out in my culinary future however she can. Wow, that was cool.
We did a lot while up in Washington. The finest weather I had ever witnessed up there . . . hot, with clear skies everywhere; even got to go crabbing on the boat for a day trip under Deception Pass Bridge. Everyone goes over it, but few go under.
Home for a while and again back up state California to Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, CA and again stopping in for some (now we anticipate) Sushi Man to take to our hotel (or on-base quarters). Again, the consistent high quality of product delivered was something to now be noticed. I have heard there are differences between Sushi restaurants or bars . . . and chefs; but the bottom line is you will receive the finest quality of Sushi available just as in many supermarkets in Southern California. They now seem to be almost everywhere even across the nation, just maybe without all of the hype of “going out for Sushi”.