Today, I got invited to a very unique culinary workshop, (by James of @HelloVancity). Going into it, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I didn’t get much information, only who would be in attendance, and that was enough for me. Reading Japan’s renowned Takashi Tamura would be cooking alongside “Blue Water Café’s” Masaaki Kudo and Frank Pabst, and “Kissa Tanto’s” Joēl Watanabe, I was intrigued to RSVP and learn more.
This was an event hosted by the “Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan”; and “Canada’s 100 Best” (the food magazine that once a year, ranks the best restaurants in the country, with a panel across the country). And today its editor-in-chief Jacob Richler was emceeing our afternoon at the “Blue Water Café”.
I would later learn that the workshop was meant for industry leaders, prominent chefs and restaurateurs working within the lower mainland, specializing in Japanese cuisine. So as a media invitee, I quickly became a fly on the wall, learning how to pitch certain ingredients and the prospect of an event to restaurants. All while enjoying the food that accompanied such an occasion.
The date coincided with the 90th anniversary start of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada. The perfect day to promote certified Japanese products within Canada, and today specifically the Vancouver market. And to do this they would be woo-ing prospective clients by celebrating Japanese cooking through their famous guest chef and his exceptional techniques and use of these ingredients.
Takashi Tamura would be providing those in attendance two cooking demonstrations featuring Japanese flounder. He would do this before the room of dual long tables fully seated, with the aid of a translator. His chosen dishes would promote the use of the afore mentioned quality Japanese ingredients now available in Canada. The hope is after trying the end product, the chefs in attendance would sign up for some cartons of it too.
The first dish was “White-fleshed fish in clear broth” with scratch made dashi. The demonstration began with a step by step blow on how to make the perfect dashi using the highest quality of bonito flakes and kombu (kelp) for the endeavour.
Takashi began by boiling the kelp. The goal, to do so until it floated. Once the kelp begins to bob it is removed from the pan and a heap of bonito flakes is pushed in, to take its place. When boiled it is poured through a sieve and the soggy flakes are collected. Here our chef stressed avoiding the squeezing of the bonito flakes, to not ring the mass dry and have it relinquish all of its liquids. Doing so only hinders the collection of its natural flavours.
Instead our chef directed the room to use the soggy mass again by continuing to boil it, and to it adding half of the boiled dashi we original strained, to be part of the second batch. This is considering that there is so much umami (the taste that makes you want to eat it more) left. You go by look and taste, eventually adding salt and soy sauce for flavour, and sake to balance it all out.
When ready, this clear broth was poured over the “white-flesh fish”. It is best that you drink it right away, out of a traditional Japanese wooden bowl with lid. The bowl chosen and the art within it, along with the fish prepared, spoke to the season. The broth was light and full of flavour and depth, one of the best tasting that I have ever laid my lips on. And the flounder used was well enjoyed with a spoonful of it in tow. Simply delicious, and deliciously simple.
Our chef announced that he is able to judge the quality of any Japanese restaurant based on its dashi and sashimi. So our next course was sashimi. And a flounder sashimi carving demonstration by “Blue Water Café’s” own sushi chef, Masaaki Kudo. The man made such delicate work look effortless with his skilled knife maneuvering. First the head is removed then the fillets of each side gingerly chopped and sliced off.
The particular fish we all enjoyed was flown in fresh Japan, served to us at the ideal temperature for the best umami, according to our host. After a tender morsel, I concurred. Another light, yet complex dish with soy, spicy green radish, and green onion for dipping.
Next “Kissa Tanto’s” Joēl Watanabe was planning to conclude the program with a demonstration on making wagyu meat balls with beef from Japan, however last minute, he was unable to attend. So what would be his dish and slot was prepared in the back and served by the restaurant as they did well to improvise.
A5 Wagyu meat balls prepared in a veal jus with pickled mushroom and roasted sesame. The designation of “A5” means that the waygu is of the highest cut, with the most fat content. The result, meat that immediately softened in your mouth. Given how rich it was, one was plenty, with the mushroom and greens not only visually balancing the dish out, but giving a balance of freshness and acid as well.
Overall a interesting experience and a great chance for a food enthusiast, like myself, to learn more about what goes into the restaurant business from the back end, and how the ingredient selection is made. I would love the opportunity to attend such a unique workshop again.