LEWISTON — Jimmy Gin grew up in China, but he learned his egg-flipping, saki-squirting, fire-stoking grill talents in North Carolina.
The 33-year-old head hibachi chef at Sea 40 Restaurant in Lewiston spent five years working at a cousin's restaurant. There, he learned the art of flipping an egg into the basket of his tall, chef's hat. He learned to twirl a pair of spatulas until he resembled a gunslinger. And he learned to control the flames on the grill, mixing and squirting oil and sake over the hot surface.
"The most dangerous part is fire," Gin said through his interpreter, restaurant general manager Franki Tam. The trick is finding the right balance, creating a flame that is awe inspiring but not scary.
"You make the show," said Gin, who now lives in Lewiston. "If you don't do it right, the fire will come to the customer."
Of course, he's never burned anyone. The key to the whole show is practice.
Flipping the egg into the hat took about two months to perfect, he said.
He started his practice by using a golf ball. After two months of work, he switched to an egg. In a week, he perfected the stunt. But he lost about three cases of eggs in the process.
Gin is still working to perfect the moves. As he demonstrated his spinning spatulas, he missed and made a pained expression.
Though he seemed to make the utensils defy gravity, he was annoyed with himself.
And despite his showmanship, the fire and food acrobatics are all secondary to the food preparation, he said.
In a few minutes, he had made a large serving of rice with vegetables, shrimp, scallops, chicken and lobster. All looked tasty.
Often the show is a way of passing the time with customers while the food cooks fully, he said.
"The first priority is the food quality," Gin said. "The show is the second."