By Lisa Marien
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Itadakimasu is a celebrated Japanese term meaning “I humbly receive” or “Let’s eat!”
At the “Kitchen at Delicatus” in Pioneer Square on Dec. 11, a packed dining room full of guests, renowned judges, and media got a very unique eating experience sponsored by The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan.
Two Seattle bests in the world of Asian cuisine, Chef Aaron Pate of Shiro and Chef Shota Naka Jima of Kappo Kitchen battled for a place to compete at the Washoku World Challenge 2015 in Kyoto. The chef will be representing Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for its exceptional Asian cuisine.
Chef Aaron Pate was born in Hawaii and is the only American-born member of the Shiro’s Sushi family.
After 13 years at San Sei in Maui, he moved to Japan for three years and worked in Tokyo at Nishi-Azabu Gonpachi before moving to Seattle. While in Seattle, he has worked at Kisaku, Marinepolis Sushi Land, and Nishino before joining the Shiro’s team in May 2014.
Chef Shota Naka Jima is a native of Seattle and grew up in a Japanese household. Influenced by his mother’s love of cooking and her use of Pacific Northwest ingredients, he was inspired to cook in Seattle and was intrigued by restaurant life. He moved to Japan at 18 to learn about his culture and heritage and also trained under a Michelin star chef in Osaka.
Before the opening ceremony, all of the guests and judges were treated to a buffet by Sushi Kappo. Some of the dishes included Nasu Wibitashi, a vegan eggplant dish; Wagyu Yamatoni, a beef dish with Maitake mushrooms; Natamane Kurumi, a green bean dish with mushrooms and walnut miso; and Gindara Miso Yuan Yaki, a black cod with sweet miso sauce. There were also generous samples of sake.
The judges included Taichi Kitamura, owner/chef of Sushi Kappo; Tamura Holly Smith, owner/chef of Cafe Jaunita and a James Beard Award recipient; Nancy Leson, restaurant critic and food columnist for The Seattle Times; Allecia Vermillion, food and drink editor of Seattle Met magazine; and Kenji Toda, Editor-In-Chief of Nikkei Business Publications, Inc. and a procurement adviser for the TV world famous cooking show “Iron Chef.”
A large oak barrel of Takara sake was brought near the judges’ table and cracked open with two hammers and a toast among guests, judges, and chefs began the event. The theme of the competition was to create a Japanese dish using local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients that would pair well with Takara sake. Takara sake is the number-one selling sake in the Northwest and one of the many sponsors of the event.
Each chef would be allowed 30 minutes to make their creations and three minutes to present to the judges. A total of five points could be earned. Each point would be based on taste of the meal, how it pairs with sake, presentation, understanding of Japanese culture, and originality.
Chef Aaron Pate was the first to present his dish.
Utilizing all 30 minutes, Pate created a bowl of tonyu shabu shabu (a soymilk hot pot) and crab claws, marinated black cod, grated radish, and a raw oyster resting above a bowl of rice.
Chef Shota created a dish inspired by a Japanese snowfall. The elements of the dish consisted of bamboo leaf, resembling paper snowflakes–pieces of thinly sliced daikon radish, lotus root, and other vegetables. Accompanying the “snowflakes” were grilled chunks of marinated black cod and uni.
It was a difficult decision for the judges to select between the chefs with different Asian styles. After comments and deliberation, clearly, the judges had much respect and enjoyed both preparation and pairing. They chose Chef Shota to represent the Northwest with his snowfall-inspired dish.
After the results were presented, a few lucky members of the audience had the opportunity to taste the chefs’ creations. One of those few was Jen Nakayama, owner of Maneki, the oldest Japanese restaurant in Seattle and a well-known and loved food destination.
The festive night eventually ended around 8 p.m. and all wished best of luck to Chef Shota Naka Jima in Kyoto at the end of January in the 2015 Washoku World Challenge. ■
Lisa Marien can be reached at email@example.com.