Tomoyuki Abe scooped the prestigious Eat Japan Sushi of The Year 2009 title at the world’s only international sushi awards this weekend. The chef, who works at Sushizen in Tokyo, one of Japan’s most prestigious sushi restaurant chains, talks to Caterer about the competition and winning.
Caterer How does it feel to have won?
Tomoyuki Abe I’m delighted and surprised. My sushi entry uses the traditional techniques of Edomae (Tokyo-style) sushi, which I have been learning my whole life, and it’s amazing to be recognised like this, especially by an international audience.
Caterer What was the inspiration for your entry, Crispy Salmon?
TA I wanted to showcase how traditional sushi techniques can really enhance the flavour of fish. For the Japanese, sushi is about preparing fish in a way that will best complement its flavour and texture. Everything about sushi – the rice, the vinegar, the soy sauce, the wasabi – is about making the fish taste as good as possible.
My sushi mentor, Tsutomu Shimamiya, has always told me “do what you need to make the ingredients taste their best, and nothing more”, so I didn’t want to make a sushi that was too complicated. I marinated the fish using the tsukekomi technique, which enhances the pure flavour of the salmon beautifully. But because this is a competition, I wanted to do something different, and that’s why I decided to top the salmon with crumbs of tempura batter, and deep-fried chips of lotus root and avocado, to create a crispy, crunchy texture. I wanted to bring traditional techniques and my own innovation together.
Caterer What is tsukekomi? How does it work?
TA Tsukekomi (marination) is one of the five traditional techniques used in Edomae sushi. The others are grilling, boiling, steaming and infusing. In tsukekomi, the fish is marinated in soy sauce and mirin. This helps to draw out excess water and heighten the umami taste.
Caterer What did you think of the other entries?
TA I was really impressed. Some of the concepts were brilliant, and the standard of presentation was amazing; I think mine looked quite plain and simple in comparison! Taiji Maruyama’s entry (Nobu, UK) was great; in Japan we wouldn’t think of using truffle oil on sushi, and I wasn’t sure how it would taste. It actually worked really well, it was a very simple yet delicious taste, and I think it’s something I’d like to try using in my restaurant.
Caterer Has winning the awards inspired you to try anything new?
TA Of course I’m delighted that I’ve won using classic Japanese techniques. But this has shown me how imaginative and diverse sushi is becoming outside Japan. I still believe that sushi should be all about simplicity, and that great sushi starts with great ingredients. But I have been impressed and inspired by the innovation I’ve seen, and I’d like to try and communicate some of that to my customers back in Japan.