Sushi Summit In APW: Not Even A Trip To Japan Could Have Matched This Experience
"If a Japanese man calls you a sayori, don't be charmed. It is a backhanded compliment, Sammi-san," warns Makoto Sam Saito of Sushi Hibiki. Sometimes sage and sometimes silly, the sushi chef can be difficult to decipher, but his meaning becomes clear after he plonks down an exquisite piece of sushi on my plate. "Sayori—in English I think it is called Japanese halfbeak—has beautiful white flesh with a black stripe at the centre. So a woman who is a sayori is beautiful but has a bad heart."
Such cultural tidbits, along with more than 20 kinds of premium sushi, are fed to us over the next two hours, and when I say us, I am alluding to the 80 fortunate sushi fans who managed to score seats to Sushi Summit 2020. Despite more than doubling last year's guest count (Volume 1 last year only accommodated 36 diners), all spots sold out in slightly over a week.
What makes Sushi Summit unique is its format whereby different chefs rotate from guest to guest; think of it as speed dating for sushi lovers. This makes it much easier to pinpoint your personal taste in sushi.
Like speed dating, guests make the acquaintance of several personalities in a single event. Unlike speed dating, sweaty-palmed singles are swapped for steady-handed chefs who excel at the art of sushi. More on these master chefs below:
MAKOTO SAM SAITO | SUSHI HIBIKI
A gatekeeper of Edomae-sushi and one of our Top 20 Restaurants in 2020, Sushi Hibiki is spearheaded by Makoto Sam Saito, an appreciator of au natural flavours, as proven by his clean presentations of the aforementioned sayori and kasugo (spring baby snapper). Even the soy sauce-marinated sawara zuke (Spanish mackerel) and smoky anago (sea conger eel) are simple compared to what's to come.
OUR FAVOURITE SUSHI BY HIM: No fancy fish goes into the making of Chef Sam's Oshinko Roll—just pickled radishes and sushi rice bundled up in nori to produce a 'baby burrito'. The pure simplicity of this snack, which highlights Japan's reliance on pickling, is humbling.
MASAKI ARAKAWA | SUSHI AZABU
Affectionately dubbed Chef "Markey", Masaki Arakawa of Sushi Azabu makes a gentle entrance with hirame or flatfish. Body language is implemented to covey his techniques—such as gently pressing his palms together to signify 'sandwiching' the fish with kelp—and his beliefs—giving farmed blue fin tuna the thumbs up (as opposed to wild-caught).
OUR FAVOURITE SUSHI BY HIM: Naturally, most of the chefs end with their pièce de résistance which, in Chef Markey's case, turns out to be a mini 'taco' stuffed with meaty saba or mackerel.
See also: The Best Burnt Cheesecake Can Be Found At Isetan The Japan Store
It’s very hard for a non-Japanese chef to be recognised by the masters.
— Leon Yap
LEON YAP | SUSHI HIBIKI
A Malaysian making waves in the world of sushi, the 2019 World Sushi Cup Japan champion is the only chef to ask us about any potential allergies. His earnestness is endearing as he openly shares the difficulties he faces as a non-Japanese striving to become the best at sushi.
Practically full at this point but only halfway through the event, my partner and I realise how we've lucked out in the order of chefs. Each one has served increasingly punchy flavours, making our degustation akin to a wine tasting: you start with the bubbly before uncorking the white and then the red. Chef Yap's flight, the boldest by far (and so far), culminates in a firefly squid roll so fresh it practically seems alive.
OUR FAVOURITE SUSHI BY HIM: It's a toss-up between the chutoro (bluefin tuna belly) and the shiro ebi (glass shrimp) with uni (sea urchin), although the snowflake salt on the latter leaves a memorable impression.
Eddie Ng | Ed.Ju Omakase
One of my favourite quotes by Burkhard Bilger, a staff writer at The New Yorker, goes as follows: "The best staples make a virtue of blandness. They quiet the mind."
On this note, I'd always thought of sushi rice as a scaffolding for premium fish to steal the spotlight—which is precisely why my first encounter with Eddie Ng rocks me to the core.
Going against against the grain, the ponytailed chef uses only flavoured rice for his sushi and has even gone as far as eliminating all white fish from his restaurant. "They can't hold up to our rice's strong flavour," he shrugs before straight up warning us that his style is heavy.
Instead of sizing up everyone's varying levels of sushi experience, Chef Eddie coaches each of his customers on sushi etiquette: "Shape your forefinger, middle finger and thumb into an 'L', allow me to place the sushi directly on your palm, pinch the sushi with your thumb, and then flip the sushi over, fish first, onto your tongue."
The only chef to serve a dessert of brûléed eggplant, Ju is definitely someone we will be watching closely in the coming months.
It's called 'contaminated omakase' because my influences come from everywhere. The black vinegar in my sushi rice is made in China, for instance.
OUR FAVOURITE SUSHI BY HIM: An Ed.Ju signature, the Kampachi or 14-day-aged amberjack has, as the chef points out, a mouthfeel not unlike that of cheese—a thrilling discovery if there ever was one. Even so, and we never thought we'd say this, Ed.Ju's rice is the real star.
- Photography John Kam (IG: @cvpturesjohn)