Tête-a-Tête with Chef Shohei Nakajima: Would you like some Butter Chicken with Wasabi? 

When I first thought of starting a blog, I knew it wasn’t going be a yet another ‘food blog’. Interesting stories gives me an unusual kick and hence I try to narrate a story through each post. If you’ve been following the blog, you’d notice that I’ve interviewed a few, but interesting Chefs/Food Connoisseurs these who have an inspiring story to share – Tim Harris, The Hugging Machine from The Tim’s Place, Bobcat Driver turned MasterChef Brent Owens (Also read – A Happy Evening With Good Food & Brent Owens, Winner of MasterChef Australia 6), Model turned MasterChef & Hotelier Sarah Todd. Something similar happened when I recently attended a Sushi making workshop by Chef Shohei Nakajima, at Grand Hyatt Mumbai! This very jovial Sous Chef is merely 25 years old and has been mastering the Sushi making art since he was 10! In an exclusive interaction with Chef Shohei, he helped me know a little more about Japanese cuisine, breaking a lot of myths about the cuisine and much more. One of the very few chefs I recently met who is not very kicked about global food trends like Molecular Gastronomy or Fusion Food. Edited excerpts –

Chef Shohei Nakajami from Grand Hyatt Mumbai

Chef Shohei Nakajami from Grand Hyatt Mumbai

Japanese cuisine is vast. Why did you choose to specialize in Sushi making?

Sushi making is an age old art which I have learnt from my Father as have has always been my inspiration when it comes to culinary.

Sushi is very popular around the world today. The traditional Japanese ‘washoku’ cuisine has been recognized by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage. Your thoughts?

Japanese people just love it when they as a collective or a Japanese person gets official recognition overseas. Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food. UNESCO recognition will boost such efforts of doing things in traditional way.

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Sushi, like all things Japanese, comes with its exclusive set of rules. Can you elaborate?

Sushi is not commonly made and cooked at home even in Japan. That is contrary to what you may think. In Japan, there are specialty sushi bars that make and sell the authentic Japanese dish. Sushi is so special that the Japanese people think making it should be left to expert sushi chefs. Like most things in Japanese life there are precise codes and formalities involved with eating the national dish of sushi. Its preparation, presentation and consumption are subject to a surprising number of rules.

What in your opinion is a “perfect” sushi?

The best way to make perfect Sushi is to go the traditional way. Simple is Best. There are certain key things to remember if you want to create authentic sushi: use good ingredients and authentic Japanese seasonings, and make sure to get your sushi rice right. It needs to be carefully cooked then seasoned with sushi vinegar.

Once that’s done, you can get creative with traditional toppings, or come up with your very own original sushi creations.

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Do you think foreign sushi chefs take the same approach to sushi-making that traditional Japanese chefs do?

No everyone uses different techniques. It depends from where they learn. If you learn the traditional way they will get it right after certain practices however they need to learn correct technique. Also it is very important to use best ingredients else you won’t ever get authentic taste.

Fusion food is become the new trend. Have you or do you plan to add some Indian ingredients/dishes to a traditional Sushi?

Not really. I believe in authenticity. Would you like butter Chicken with Wasabi? It’s same we want the taste to be retained.

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The common perception of sushi is that its all seafood/raw fish, is that true? (I’ve heard Japanese moms traditionally make only vegetarian sushi at home)?

As I said before Sushi is not commonly made and cooked at home even in Japan. If at all people make it’s complete Non vegetarian. Might be some families try out vegetarian too but then it will be with cucumber, carrots.

A lot of the components of traditional sushi aren’t easily available in the places where it is popular outside Japan. How does a sushi maker deal with that?

Yes that’s true infact when I came to India I had same fear of sourcing Ingredients however there are vendors who specialize in Japanese ingredients. It is a bit expensive to source from them but it is helpful as they get the products we want to use in our Kitchen.

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Molecular Gastronomy is the global trend. Will we see some chemistry in Sushi as well?

I am sure trends are changing everyday. Someone will definitely come up with molecular Sushi but I have no plans. I will still hold on to my Fathers lessons.

Outside Japan, where is the best sushi you have ever eaten?

There are couple of places that are specializing in Japanese food however the best one till date for me was at Taipei – Mitsui restaurant. They made it the way we find in Japan. I was impressed!

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