Anyone who has ever attended any one of our sushi courses knows that the first five minutes of the powerpoint presentation is allotted to the issues of food literacy, childhood poverty, and food injustice in the Greater Toronto Area. (It is a grave problem, which I have addressed in many public speaking engagements over the years, including at TEDx and SIPO and Passages Canada, to libraries and universities across this province and Mexico.) These issues are also highlighted at every corporate sushi workshop, and companies with greater moral purpose have openly embraced this. As an organization, we have been on this mission for almost eight years and over 17,000 participants later. Let’s roll sushi and also briefly talk about bigger issues of food insecurity- who gets to eat (and eat nutritionally) and who doesn’t, and why. We do this in both stable and affluent communities and those that are vulnerable to the whims of the slightest economic and social forces.
Those who know me well, know how important this issue of food insecurity and childhood hunger is to me. It is the WHY of what I do, as it speaks profoundly from my personal life journey, one that is documented in my upcoming book “Woody Allen Ate My Kimchi” (Exile Editions, 2018). Similar journeys have been taken- are being taken today- by millions all over the world. I am overwhelmed by a great feeling of allegiance.
Therefore, it fills my heart when we receive letters and emails of thanks from the students. It bolsters our organization’s sense of purpose. And occasionally, inspired students will write a piece about their experience. On February 16, 2017, I was invited to do a sushi workshop for a class of high school students at Greenwood College, a progressive and ambitious preparatory school in one of Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhoods. None of these students in the class recalled ever knowing a day of real hunger in their lives; and with the almost certain trajectory to success, they likely never will. But this did not stop them from wanting to understand, empathize. Over the years, we have learned that our workshops are much more effective when we are not preaching to the choir (i.e. children suffering from hunger and food insecurity). It works wonders when “non-congregants”, with the moral courage to venture with genuine curiosity over to the “other side of the tracks”, wish to do something about it, in part because they have the resources to do so. Conor Alexander is one such young man. He wrote this kind blog about his experience of the workshop and the school gave us permission to share it. You can read his essay here. I want to personally thank Conor for the wonderful write-up (keep inspiring, young man!), and to Greenwood College and its tight community of parents, administrators, and teachers for inculcating and engendering this most pressing of human values in their children/students: that a successful education is not merely measured by how well-fed the bank account is; it is also about nourishing the soul. There are other such schools who in recent years have asked us to come “talk-and-roll” with their students (too many to mention here) and they deserve kudos as well.
Finally, with immense gratitude I would like to personally thank all of you (individuals and companies alike) who have paid to attend one of our workshops over the years. Part of the proceeds (5%) goes toward subsidizing our sushi workshops with children in schools, libraries, community centres, church basements etc. across this province. Through your contribution, and our workshops, you have brought a smile to a child’s day and one less nutritious meal to worry about.
Happy Pancake Day!
Watch the funny segment by clicking on the image.
And a simple, vegetarian kimchi pancake to share with your friends and family:
KOREAN KIMCHI PANCAKE RECIPE
(You can get these ingredients at any Asian supermarket ie. P.A.T, Galleria, TNT, Hmart etc.)
MAKES 6 PANCAKES
INGREDIENTS FOR BATTER:
1 cup Korean pancake mix
1 cup naturally-carbonated water
1 cup kimchi (look for one with no fish sauce), thinly chopped
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon mild gochujang (Korean chile paste)
1 teaspoon coarse gochugaru (Korean chile flakes)
1 scallion, sliced one inch segments, then cut lengthwise in half
INGREDIENTS FOR DIPPING SAUCE:
3 tablespoons of Korean soy sauce for soup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sprinkle coarse gochugaru on top
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, except for oil and dipping sauce ingredients
Refrigerate the bowl for 15 minutes
Add oil to skillet and set the burner to medium-high heat
When the oil begins to give off a nice sheen, ladle ½ cup of batter (enough for one pancake)
Bring the heat down to medium-low and fry for 4-5 minutes until golden-brown on the edges
Flip the pancake over and fry for another 3-4 minutes (longer if you like it crispy)
Repeat with remaining batter ie. slick with oil, heat up, batter, heat down etc.
Place finished pancake on a plate lined with a paper towel (to remove the excess oil) and cut into any shape you like.
Serve with dipping sauce
Three of our most popular classes are now up for the month of February. Book soon because it is limited seating and these classes are historically the quickest sell-outs. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
VALENTINE’S DAY LOVERS EDITION: COUPLES ONLY SATURDAY FEB 11th + TUESDAY FEB 14th, 7pm-10pm
Two classes are on offer. Begins with a presentation on the theme of romance and sushi. Edamame snack to begin. You and your partner make 8 sushi rolls together. Dessert treat at the end. Candlelight, great music. All about kindling and re-kindling that spark through sushi with your partner. Vegetarians, Vegans and Pescatorians all equally welcome! $100 (+HST) per couple. A selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are also available for purchase during the class.
FAMILY DAY FUN CLASS: FAMILIES ONLY: MONDAY FEBRUARY 20th, 5pm-7pm
Specially discounted class on Family Day. The workshop is 1.5 hours long. Everybody makes four sushi rolls each- this is your dinner for the night. This class is all about bonding between children (8-18 years of age) and between parents and children. *Parents do not have to participate. This workshop is nut, shellfish, dairy, MSG and Gluten-free! Children: $20 (+HST). Adults: $25 (+HST).
NIGIRI + SASHIMI CLASS: SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25th, 7pm-9:30pm
LEVEL II Nigiri + Sashimi class. You learn to make proper sushi rice. Cut salmon, butterfish, tuna sashimi. Make shrimp, unagi and ika nigiri. And a California Roll. LEVEL I Making Makimonos class is highly recommended. $70 (+HST) per person.
In this segment Chef Sang teaches the lovely hosts of The Social a thing or two about Korea’s most iconic dish, Bibimbap, while reading their personalities based on what ingredients they used.
To watch the segment, click here:
If you’ve never heard of Bibimbap, it’s time to get on board. Chef and restaurateur Sang Kim returned to The Social to tell us all about one of Korea’s most iconic dishes.
The original form of the dish goes back to the early Chosun Period (14th century). The distribution of ingredients in a rice bowl was dictated by the five basic yin and yang elements: earth, fire, wood, water, metal. Each of these elements/ingredients was offered in the bowl together and in balanced formation.
WHAT DOES BIBIMBAP MEAN?
The word “bibimbap” literally means “mixed rice.”
Bibimbap is only about 100 years old and became super popular in the 20th century.
It’s traditionally eaten on the even of the lunar new year to finish off all of the leftovers of the previous year. It’s kind of like a cleansing.
HOW DO YOU MAKE IT?
A rice cooker is typically used for the rice but a pot with a glass lid will do, too.
WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD BE USED?
Bibimbap is usually made with different types of sauteed and seasoned vegetables (i.e. shiitake mushrooms, spicy radishes, zucchini)
A raw or yolky egg
Meat (usually beef)
Chili pepper paste, fermented soybean paste and soy sauce
HOW TO ASSEMBLE IT
It’s more than simply piling the ingredients on top of one another. Part of the challenge is to assemble the prettiest bowl.
Most chefs assemble the ingredients in small piles around the bowl with a raw or cooked egg placed in the centre.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START ASSEMBLING
Think about the first ingredient you put into your rice bowl because it says a lot about your character. It could be a colour you’re drawn to or a food you fancy.
The five colours (or “obangsaek”) represent the traditional five elements of the universe. The colours white black/brown, green, red and yellow have a deep philosophical meaning.
If you choose yellow (i.e. bean sprouts, eggs)
Yellow represents Centre:
Sense organ: Mouth
Prominent emotion: Pensiveness
If you choose black/brown (i.e. shiitake mushrooms)
Black/brown represents North:
Sense organ: Ears
Prominent emotion: Fear
If you choose red (i.e. spicy radishes)
Red represents South:
Sense organ: Tongue
Prominent emotion: Joy
If you choose green (i.e. zucchini)
Green represents East:
Sense organ: Eyes
Prominent emotion: Anger
This year, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will be honouring the great Japanese-Canadian Chef, Hidekazu Tojo, for inventing the California Roll. His eponymous restaurant is one I recommend to anybody visiting Vancouver, and his signature rolls, including Pacific Northwest and Great BC, are some of the finest locally-sourced makimonos anywhere. He is also one of the bonafide innovators of omakase in North America, when the diner at a sushi bar leaves the selection of small dishes in the chef’s hands. In Toronto we have Kaji and Hiro, the Alpha and Omega of local sushi chefs, successfully striking that right balance between nurture and nature. But Omakase in our land-locked city is an achingly serious conundrum because we are thousands of miles from the three coasts, where a chef in closer proximity, like Tojo, can tap into the wealth and variety of fresh seafood, not only along his B.C. coast, but from where he stands, just a stone’s throw away in Japan’s Tsukiji Market.
After the announcement was made about Tojo, I was asked by some news agencies to comment on the inventor of the California Roll. And because my students do a version of it in my Making Makimonos class, I sometimes share the story about its origins. So, I thought I would throw my two-cents into the tank and clear the record so as not to be perceived as promoting fake news by my beloved minnows.
Today, the California Roll is as recognizable a brand as the Big Mac and as ubiquitous as Ikea furniture. A sushi bar in North America will not succeed without some variation of this money-making maki on its menu. In the late 1990’s, when the war against the hosomaki (a traditional Japanese roll, where a maximum of four ingredients are used, and wrapped in nori- roasted seaweed wrap) was declared, sushi chefs with little classical training began to pave the New Road for the Roll. Every imaginable ingredient under the sun was shoved between a sheet of nori and rice. These uramaki (American-made, larger-than-life-rice-on-the-outside-rolls) could have as much as eighteen ingredients in them, and were christened with all kinds of attention-grabbing names: the ominous Red Dragon; the unappetizing Caterpillar; even the nostalgic (“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”) Rainbow. Thankfully, many of the sushi bars that mass-produced these rolls have been shuttered, and a new wave of neo-conservative, classically-trained chefs have taken their place. Sushi bars began the march back to its roots, which meant the hosomaki inched its way back into favour (read: kappa and tekka). Even still, the California Roll has remained a staunch staple.
My favourite variation is the California temaki (cone-shaped handroll), which is delicious with less vinegary rice and a firmer avocado because the shredded shirimi (imitation crabmeat) and softness of the rice demands textural contrast.
And, of course, what would anything from California be without two slices of “just-like-my-grandma-used-to-bake-it” bread bookending it? Enter the California Roll Sandwich for those who don’t believe (in spite of the evidence of my elbows and knees after taking a bite of it) that gluten causes inflammation. It’s a homage to the great Alice Waters reincarnated as a Japanese sushi chef.
The origin of the California Roll has petrified into myth; and like all creation myths, origins get muddied. The re-telling of it is full of drama and suspense, with a dose of shifting invention for flavour. And as proudly Canadian as I am, as much as I believe he is the cream of the crop in the broadening landscape of fine sushi chefs in our country, the story of Tojo inventing the California Roll is the merely another muddled creation myth.
The Californians invented it, of course.
The name of the roll was not intended for ironic effect, and the sober story is well-documented. For starters, my friend Trevor Corson, the writer and sustainable seafood activist, wrote a bestselling book about sushi, and in it he also discusses its origins.
* * *
It is the 1960’s in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. The restaurant is called Tokyo Kaikan, one of the first tempura bars in America. It also had a small sushi bar. Besides the many Nehru-jacketed, love-beaded, tie-dyed hippies disembarking from their hippy vans, TK’s clientele was otherwise Japanese businessmen, and they all longed for the rich flavors of toro– the fatty belly part of the bluefin tuna, which was prized back home. There was little of this to be had in California. What was readily available, however, were truckloads of fresh avocados crossing the Mexican border. With almost a third of its content being fat, avocados offered the texture and melt-in-your-mouth qualities of toro. So, in an inspired moment, Ichiro Mashita, the sushi chef at Tokyo Kaikan, sliced some ripe avocado and blended it with chopped boiled shrimp to give the mixture the reddish coloring of tuna meat. Later, due to prohibitive costs, he switched from shrimp to shirimi (made sausage-like from non-usable bits of white fish), which until then was tossed to the seagulls from the docks of Cannery Row in Monterey. It is still used today. Finally, to hide the cheap quality of the nori that was being used, he turned the roll inside-out, to keep it (forgive me) under wraps.
These two innovations (replacing tuna belly with avocado and putting rice on the outside) rocked the sushi world almost as much as Prince hating sushi shook the Rock world. Purists back in Japan mocked the roll for creating simulated flavors and deemed the hiding of the nori sacrilegious. Americans, however, preferred not to see the “black paper”, as their palates were not used to the taste of roasted seaweed.
So began our undying love affair with, not to mention the misappropriation of, the California Roll.
And despite nay-sayers and tongue-waggers of recent years, this Roll-To-End-All-Rolls has taken on iconic status. And like some of the other great American culinary ideas, from Spaghetti-and-Meatballs to Philly Steak to the bafflingly un-Chinese Egg Foo Young, the California Roll is sure to endure the real test: Time.
In the end, who really cares who “invented” it? Let’s celebrate and champion our great Canadian chef. When you make it as well as Tojo does, you may as well take the credit for it. It is, after all, just a roll. But allow me this final nugget of truth: some of the students in my classes rock it, too.