The UK is one of fourteen countries taking part in the Global Sushi Challenge, which held its heats in Nobu, London. Nine chefs in total took part, and with their day jobs ranging from executive sushi makers to self-taught gastropub chefs the competition promised an interesting – and refreshingly diverse – mix of perspectives.
The first round was an Edomae sushi speed test. A style of sushi dating back to the Edo period in the early eighteenth century, this is what many of us today – including those great minds behind smartphone emojis – would regard to be ‘classic sushi’. Replacing traditional preparation methods of salted, preserved fish with raw fish and rice, Edomae sushi was made with the intention of being eaten quickly – Japanese fast food.
Fast certainly seemed the operative word as the judges outlined the rules of the round, with contestants expected to prepare two plates containing seven pieces of nigiri-style sushi (including salmon, shellfish and egg) alongside six pieces of cucumber maki in just ten minutes. After a rigorous inspection of each chef’s area – the judges were awarding points for cleanliness and method as well as technique – they were off, deftly slicing fat slabs of glorious, plump fish and shaping rice with idiosyncratic flourishes.
Observing the preparation was incredibly interesting, and the knife skills on display were staggering. Watching the chefs pile up neat, identical slices of succulent salmon, I wondered why I never ventured further than smoked salmon in the sushi I make at home. What is there to be afraid of? It reminded me of a lengthy debate I’d come across online the last time my sushi courage failed me: is there such a thing as ‘sushi grade’ fish, or is this a term invented by supermarkets to up the price? When I put this to an expert from Norwegian Seafood her answer was, mercifully, a lot shorter than that on the internet: ‘The term ‘sushi grade’ is an indicator of safety rather than quality. To eat raw fish you need to be sure it’s not carrying any dangerous bacteria; wild seafood will need be frozen first, while farmed fish is safe to eat fresh.’