According to Japanese legend, the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi (captured in the stars Vega and Altair) are separated by the Milky Way – only to reunite once each year on “the evening of the seventh,” also known as Tanabata or the Star Festival.
In Japan, shopping malls are decorated with vibrantly coloured streamers and bamboo trees are adorned with Tanabata wishes written on small pieces of paper. Parades are also thrown, with women and men dressed in traditional yukata, or summer kimonos.
To celebrate Tanabata, Washoku Lovers hosted a Japanese cooking demonstration and class at the Sydney Seafood School. As lovers of all things Washoku (“Japanese food culture”), this Sydney-based community came together to spread their passion for Japanese cuisine.
We were each handed a glass of Choya Umeshu, a sweet and sparkling Japanese plum wine mixed with green tea for a delightful, subtle flavour. With a little bubbly in hand, we eagerly took our seats in front of the immensely skilled Japanese chef, Raita Noda. He stood behind the demonstration bench surrounded by plates of thinly sliced wagyu, blue fin tuna, konbu, rice, quail eggs, bottles of Kikkoman sauces and an array of different vegetables. It was difficult not to get excited.
Raita Noda grew up in Tokyo, but migrated to Australia at the age of 15 with his family. Having brought with him his passion for Japanese cuisine and an understanding of traditional Japanese cooking techniques, Chef Raita opened Rise in Darlinghurst when he was 26. He later moved to run the kitchen at Ocean Room in Circular Quay, before the restaurant was forced to close under expansion plans for the adjacent Overseas Passenger Terminal. After a well-deserved break, he returned to the restaurant business, realising his dream of opening an intimate fine-dining restaurant. At Raita Noda Chef’s Kitchen in Surry Hills, Chef Raita cooks specially for a maximum of eight (that’s right, eight!) lucky diners every Tuesday to Sunday night.
With expertise in both traditional Japanese cuisine and Western cooking, Chef Raita demonstrated how to prepare Osawa Wagyu Sukiyaki in two ways: first the traditional method for preparing wagyu sukiyaki, and then Chef Raita’s own original method for preparing the dish. Whilst traditional wagyu sukiyaki is usually eaten with raw egg using ingredients that tend to be a little more difficult to get outside of Japan, Chef Raita’s modern take on the dish caters to more Western palates using more easily available ingredients – all the while, staying true to the basic elements of wagyu sukiyaki.
In its simplest form, Chef Raita’s Original Wagyu Sukiyaki featured mushroom rice rolls covered in seaweed strips and wrapped in layers of thinly sliced wagyu. This was then cooked medium rare on a hot pan with Kikkoman Sukiyaki Sauce, served with a leek, shallot and chrysanthemum leaf salad and garnished with tempura quail eggs. Along with each component came a particular method of preparation or an additional few ingredients that left me in awe of the skill and creativity that goes into preparing Japanese-inspired dishes.
This amazement only continued when Chef Raita prepared his next dish, the Table Smoked Zuke Marinated Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi. This dish introduced a whole new level of creativity to the table. The tuna sashimi log was seared with a blowtorch then finely sliced. It was left to marinade for a few minutes in a mixture of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, cooking sake and mirin (with the alcohol burned off). The tuna was then plated, along with a salad of fresh herbs, Spanish onion, yellow tomatoes and black garlic, and a scattering of salmon roe and smoky soy sauce in the form of small gelatinous ‘spheres’ (the result of Chef Raita’s creativity and innovation). Once the plate was ready, a wood chip was then set alight, having been covered in the smoky soy sauce, and its smoke was captured in a glass that was then placed atop the plated tuna.
With so many steps involved, such a wide range of ingredients and the continuous use of a blowtorch (which may or may not have set off the fire alarm at the Sydney Seafood School, resulting in a quick visit from some very efficient firemen), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all worried about my ability to prepare this dish myself.
But when it came time for the cooking class, we were able to recreate these amazing Japanese dishes with some teamwork and assistance from the expert himself, Chef Raita.
Eating our freshly cooked meals was definitely a highlight of the night. Chef Raita’s Original Wagyu Sukiyaki boasted a perfect combination of flavours that left me desperate to try and cook the dish again at home. From the Koshihikari Rice to the high quality Osawa Wagyu, each ingredient in the wagyu sukiyaki complemented one another in the best way.
The tuna sashimi was also a delight, with a subtle smokiness working well with the fresh herb salad. It was also great having the mix of textures in this dish, with the sashimi remaining very soft and tender and the salad adding a considerable crunch to the plate.
In addition to these two dishes, we also had a side of Pickled Turnip a la Minutes (mixed with lime, soy sauce and mirin and tossed with julienne konbu and bonito flakes), a clam soup (“ushio” style) and a refreshing Kochi Yuzu Granita with Yuzu Gelée for dessert.
Along with our delicious meals, we were also lucky enough to sample three sakes from the Dassai Sake Brewery, one of Japan’s leading sake brewers. With Australia’s official Sake Ambassador, Andre Bishop, to talk us through each sake, we tasted the Dassai 23, 39 and sparkling 50.
With varying percentages of rice milling and different finishes, it was great to sip each sake and note the subtle flavours that came through. Dassai 23, with the highest milling percentage of the three sakes had a long finish, with a particularly fruity aroma radiating from the glass. The Dassai 39 had more of a refreshing finish and a subtler flavour, whilst the Sparkling 50 was both fruity and refreshing.
Having had the opportunity to not only enjoy a five course Japanese dinner with matching sake but to cook some Japanese dishes ourselves really inspired an even greater appreciation of Washoku than what I’d had before. It’s no wonder why Japanese cuisine is one of the most iconic cuisines in the world and has attracted such a widespread community of followers.
To learn more about Washoku and the Washoku Lovers community, visit their website at washokulovers.com.
I Ate My Way Through attended the cooking class as guests of Washoku lovers.