Week 2- Asian

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We were still in Japan this week in Asian. Monday I actually volunteered with 2 other students from our class to help Chef Dawn give a presentation/tutorial to potential future students of AI. It was interesting to see students who are in the same place I was a year ago. I could see the same enthusiasm, hesitation, and anxiety on their faces. It feels good to be a year in and to be able to tell how much my confidence has grown.

We came in at 8 and began prepping. Then we got a much more in depth lesson on sushi making by Chef Dawn. I was so excited to be able to attend this event and help with it so I could gain more experience working with sushi. I can now create pretty sushi rolls with the seams on the bottom. Yay!

Today we worked, as teams, on presenting a meal Kaiseki style. I am finding Japanese culture and the rituals that are linked with the cuisine utterly fascinating. My husbands cousin (who is quickly becoming a close friend to me) is Japanese and learning more about her culture is bringing us closer. She has been following my culinary experiences, always anxious to learn more about what I am learning. Now it is my turn to learn more about HER. Any questions I have, she is quick to answer.

As I delved into the ritual of Kaiseki, I once again was emotionally drawn to the respect that is given to the food and the ingredients. The peace. I can imagine myself in a calm room with quiet lighting and begin to feel serene. Perhaps I am romanticizing, but in every article that I read about Kaiseki, this is the overall picture that seems to be painted. I love how seasons are the primary driving force behind the menu. Only the freshest seasonal ingredients are used. I love that items from nature adorn the food and the table. I love how much thought and care is taken in every aspect of the dining experience. The table is set with the utmost of care and even the dishes that are used to serve the food on have been carefully chosen to work in harmony with the food that is on them. The food is served immediately upon completion. All of this...for up to FIFTEEN tiny DISHES!

One line from an article struck me especially. "Kaiseki is the anti-sushi." This statement was made in reference to the fact that you will never have a TRUE kaiseki experience in the United States unless you are visiting a true Japanese family. No, and I mean NO, restaurant here will be able or willing to provide this experience. The timing is too critical and too much care and work is put into it. America is in too much of a hurry and much too worried about the bottom line to take on the challenge of Kaiseki.

These were the things that most impressed me about Kaiseki. I contacted my cousin in law to discuss the idea of traveling with her to Japan at some point. At $1400 for just the plane ticket and $150 for a Kaiseki meal combined with the fact that I have two small children at home means it will be at least 15 years before I get the TRUE experience. Some things in life are worth the wait, though.

So, in class today we had several dishes that we HAD to make and then we got to use the ingredients to create additional plates on our own. Each plate was to be one to two bites and artfully designed. I made the fotomaki since I had learned how on Monday. With fotomaki, you can have items sticking out of the ends so that when you turn them on their sides, it gives some height. I had fun plating this and playing with garnishes.

I then decided to make a "dessert" sushi when I saw the pickled beets that a tablemate had made. I got the idea to use the beet juice to color the sushi rice pink and then used fruit inside instead of vegetables.

Let me stop here. I had never eaten an Asian pear before today. If you are in the same boat, you MUST go try one. It was absolutely heavenly and it is definitely my new favorite fruit. It was a perfectly crisp crunch like the perfect apple and the flavor was amazing. It was sweet but not overly so and juicy without dripping like normal pears do sometimes. Delightful.

I decided to name this roll "Twinklethink" and am dedicating it to Harmony. It just looks like something a little girl would like. I plated it on top of a starfruit and used my aspic cutters I got for Christmas to make the teardrop garnishes.

I also plated one of the Twinklethinks with a Japanese Dumpling that is made with Azuki- a sweet bean paste. This was delicious, which surprised me. Sweet beans. Who knew?

It was a very good class today and I can't wait to see what we are working on next week when we change our focus to China!


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