Over the past few decades, Americans have begun a quest for new foods to titillate their taste buds. In the case of Japanese food, not only are Americans learning about the exotic fare but also the unique preparation of such food. To help encourage this trend, the Memphis Botanic Garden hosted "Beyond Sushi: Japanese Food Presentation and Cooking Demonstration" on June 17 in conjunction with the Japan-America Society of Tennessee West (JAST).
While many Americans associate sushi with Japanese cuisine, not many people are as familiar with other Japanese dishes. The event was held to not only let every visitor get to experience these new tastes but also to see how they were prepared. Some of the many dishes included sushi, of course, as well as sukiyaki (a type of stew), tempura (fried food), tonkatsu (pork cutlets), gyoza (dumplings), okonomiyaki (indescribably delicious), edamame (boiled, salted soybeans), and takoyaki (a pastry with octopus in it).
Yoshiyuki Takusagawa, the corporate executive chef at Sekisui Inc., prepared the food for the approximately 200 people in attendance. Takusagawa has been a chef for 28 years, and has been cooking since he was eight. Cooking has always been the love of his life. He was trained in Tokyo, and worked in Chicago, before coming to Memphis. In addition to his duties at Sekisui, he also is a guest chef at the Viking Cooking School.
Emily Winckler, the Program Coordinator for JAST in Nashville, was very pleased with the event. "I love introducing Tennesseans to the culture of Japan," she said. Winckler, originally from Wisconsin, is passionate in speading the word about Japan in part because she spent over three years teaching in the Japanese English Teaching program in Migata Prefecture. Upon her return to this country, she obtained a position at the Consulate General of Japan. "I didn't know anything about Japan when I left Wisconsin," she went on. "I just had an opportunity to go and fell in love with the country. Now I'm sharing that love with other people to promote a better understanding of Japan."
For her part, Akemi Sommer, of JAST West, dressed in full kimono, was delighted with everyone's enthusiasm. "I am so happy to see everyone enjoying themselves," she said. "Stick around. We will be having a chopstick contest to see who can pick up the most food the fastest." Then she melted back into the crowd with her usual ever-present smile.
For more information, go to www.jastn.com/west.