I’d better start with a confession – I’m the world’s worst cook. But I like to eat, especially at restaurants where you can get real Japanese food, so I was already a fan of So Japanese Restaurant when I got an invitation to the opening party for their new cookery school, Sozai. I signed up right away, lured not so much by the cookery demonstration, more by the thought of eating the results afterwards.
The school is a short walk from Liverpool St Station and I arrived to find it already crowded with people, a mixture of Japanese and westerners with a preponderance of couples.
There was a palpable air of excitement and anticipation as Hibiki Ichikawa performed on the shamisen.
He was joined by Akari Mochizuki who sang a selection of minyo (traditional japanese songs), that had the audience clapping along, including one of my favourites, Soran Bushi, a traditional fisherman’s song from Hokkaido.
Then to the main event – twelve volunteers lined up at steel tables and watched a touch nervously as chef Yuki Gomi showed them how to make two kinds of sushi – first California rolls and then the more traditional hosomaki.
Here’s how you do it:
Assemble your ingredients.
Spread the rice on one side of the sheet of seaweed, leaving a strip at one side free.
Add the tobiko (flying fish roe). For California rolls you turn it over and put the crab and avocado, which will end up in the middle, on the other side.
Then you roll it, using the bamboo mat you made it on. Here’s the important bit – you need to keep stopping and starting and checking it’s holding together. Trying to do it all in one go is where it goes wrong.
You end up with a roll that looks like this.
Then you cut it up and arrange it nicely on a plate (chef did this as, at this point in the evening with the wine flowing freely the volunteers were, quite rightly, not trusted with a sharp knife).
It was delicious, even if the look of it was sometimes not quite professional standards. But practice makes perfect. And I’m sure the folks at home will be as willing as I was to eat the results.
Sozai (it means both ‘household dishes’ and ‘ingredients’) is the first Japanese cookery school in the UK. Classes will last about one and a half or two hours and you can book them individually – no need to sign up for a course. They’ll cover everything from sushi and tempura to authentic kaiseki and street food such as ramen and okonomiyaki. Celebrity guest chefs, like Daisuke Hayashi of Chrysan, are promised. If you don’t want to go to Liverpool St there will be classes at So (in Soho) as well.
Our chef for the evening,Yuki Gomi has a book coming out in June (published by Penguin) called Sushi at Home which looks like it will be worth getting. Here she is with Akemi Yokoyama, a chef who specialises in explaining British cookery and culture in Japan.
The evening ended with much conviviality and more food, which disappeared as fast as the kitchen could produce it.