Today in New Voices, we are excited to share the honorable mention of our 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! “The Crown Prince of Koi” by Daniel Abiva Hunt follows a head sushi chef in his push for a James Beard Award, complicated by issues he’s facing with his wakiita, his assistant chef, who also happens to be his father, a former head sushi chef in his own right. Hunt’s narrator, The Crown Price of Koi, has to now decide between his own ambition and honoring his father—a decision that will weigh heavy on him. Read on below, and check back over the next few weeks for the rest of our contest winners!
When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like my father. He and my mom opened up one of the first Japanese restaurants in South Jersey. They called it Shiro, the castle, and they were king and queen.
Before the first seating of the night, I beg my assistant chef—my wakiita—to refrain from correcting any of the customers tonight. He can come off curt when explaining how to properly enjoy premium sushi. We can’t afford to upset anyone at the moment. Our restaurant’s in a tight race for a James Beard Award. Any customer can be a critic.
“Are we on the same page?” I ask. I’m the owner. The head sushi chef. The itamae.
My wakiita stares at me. I never know what he’s thinking. He’s not only my assistant. He’s my father.
Before answering, he heads to the front of the house, leaving me alone in the kitchen. My mom says the men of our family aren’t very open, emotionally.
* * *
The restaurant seats 12, all at a stained-wood bar, the dining room enclosed by gold-leaf screens and shoji doors. My side of the counter is soon covered in raw fish, a bowl of warm rice, and a blowtorch. The customer side is crowded with pickled ginger, dishes of soy, and bottles of sake. The hostess takes drink orders. She’s my mom. At the other end of the bar, my father handles seats 7 through 12.
“Where’s the blood?” asks the brunette in Seat 1, when I plate her otoro. Fatty tuna.
“It’s removed,” I say.
She bites her piece in two.
“One bite,” I remind her.
The bald man in Seat 2 balks. “One can achieve double satisfaction with two.” He bites his piece in half. The nigiri crumbles on contact and spills down his suit. “Shouldn’t the rice be stickier?” he says.
The brunette says, “Can you make the one with the cream cheese?”
My father’s knife thwacks the cutting board. He gives me a withering glare. I divert the customers’ attention by revealing the next fish. Aji. Japanese mackerel.
“We’ve always loved exotic food,” says the brunette.
The man in Seat 3 with the mustache chimes in, “You ought to try sheep’s head soup.”
The woman in Seat 4 with the pearls adds, “They boil the brain whole and serve it with mashed rutabaga.”
Something tells me these aren’t critics.