Sushi with an international flavour wins at the World Sushi Cup

On March 6, 18 contestants from around the world gathered in Chiba to compete in the World Sushi Cup. The first such contest of its kind in Japan, the event attracted accomplished chefs from all around the world — including some unlikely sushi hot spots such as the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

Sushi, a cuisine synonymous with Japan, has become a worldwide phenomenon. A report by Kikkoman the soy sauce giant estimates that there were between 14,000 and 18,000 restaurants serving sushi outside of Japan in 2007, and the numbers have continued to rise as Japanese food has gained popularity abroad. Ever since the invention of sushi in Southeast Asia several centuries ago — when it was first made by preserving fish in fermented rice — the cuisine has been evolving. With international chefs utilizing local ingredients and putting modern twists on the dish, there are now more varieties and styles of sushi than ever before.

Organized by the World Sushi Cup Japan Committee and the Chiba Prefectural government, the competition intends to celebrate the diversity of the sushi world, and to promote cleanliness and hygiene standards in sushi restaurants overseas.

The competition was divided into two categories, one for individual chefs and one for chefs representing restaurants. In the individual category, contestants had 50 minutes to prepare two plates of sushi, which were then judged by a panel of professionals. The theme of the competition was simply “the first,” and the American chef Jeff Ramsey chose “the first-class luxury of Las Vegas” as the inspiration for his striking sushi creations.

“The sushi should have a touch of the country you’re coming from,” he explained. “I’m going to try to do some things over the top because that’s Las Vegas, and that’s America.” Best known for his modernist style of cooking Ramsey applied a mix of modern and traditional techniques: He topped his black sushi rice, which had been colored with powdered charcoal, with striking black-and-gold sheets created from shiitake mushroom puree cooked with egg.

Other chefs followed a more traditional path. Contestants were required to use ingredients primarily from Chiba Prefecture, and Marek Hora from the Czech Republic and Garry Loh, of Yamagawa restaurant in Singapore, used the local seafood to make traditional Edo-mae nigiri (hand-formed sushi) and sushi rolls.

After over an hour of deliberation, the Sushi Chef of the Year title went to the Danish chef Pepi Anevski, of Umami restaurant in Copenhagen. Anevski impressed the panel with his plate of Scandinavian-inflected nigiri, which was based on the concept of the four seasons. Winter was interpreted with a lightly grilled scallop, sprinkled with a powdered butter emulsion, summer was salmon, smoked with green tea and finished with dried strawberry puree and chopped peppermint. At the center of the dish was lobster meat wrapped in sliced carrot, topped with avocado foam, verbena oil and lime caviar.

“I concentrated on taste and simplicity,” he said. “I’m glad that the judges could understand what I wanted to express. But the best thing about (the World Sushi Cup) was seeing what other chefs are doing in their countries.”

Second and third prizes went to Japanese chef Takeshi Matsumoto and Ramsey.

Eight of the contestants went on to compete in the restaurant category. This event was open to the public and attendees were invited to taste the sushi and vote for their favorite restaurant.

Each restaurant team was given an hour to make 200 pieces of sushi, and most of the chefs strove to highlight the flavors of their home countries. Toshihiko Ochi, from El restaurante Kokoro in Uruguay, finished his rolled sushi with dried beef and chili sauce, while Romanian chef Georgiu Gavril used tomato sauce in his “Dracula Roll.” Ramsey, however, concentrated on produce from Chiba, smoking local sea bream with wood of 1,000-year-old trees from Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture, before marinating the fish briefly in konbu (seaweed).

On the final day, the Saiko restaurant in Malmo, Sweden, was hailed as the Most Outstanding Sushi Restaurant. Chef Pontus Johansson’s elaborate salmon nigiri — topped with a marble-sized ball of fried salmon, rolled in gold dust, aioli sauce made with green garlic from Sweden, and thinly sliced hazelnuts cooked in soy sauce — proved to be a hit with the audience.

“I’m so happy to come to Japan and show you our way of approaching sushi with Scandinavian flavors,” Johansson said, as he accepted the award. “Now, it’s sake time.”

Source: The Japan Times

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