SushiSushi: the home of Japanese flavours

SushiSushi: the home of Japanese flavours

by Great British Chefs 22 July 2021

When Japanese ingredient company SushiSushi started out in 2007, it stocked just one product. Now with over 1,000 items listed on its website, it supplies many of the UK’s top chefs. We speak to founder Stu Turner about how he fell head-over-heels in love with Japanese flavours and take a look at some of the most interesting ingredients he offers.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Today, the influence of Japanese cuisine – with all its sophistication, balanced flavours and complex, unique ingredients – can be experienced across the globe. But it wasn’t always like this; products such as dashi and ponzu were rarely used outside of the country until relatively recently. Over the past ten or so years, however, chefs have realised the incredible flavours these artisanal ingredients contain, incorporating them into dishes based in all sorts of different cuisines. In the UK, chefs turn to one company – and one man in particular – to source the very best Japan has to offer. Set up in 2007 by Japanese food obsessive Stu Turner, SushiSushi sells a huge range of top-end Japanese ingredients, tableware and kitchen equipment not only to restaurants but to the public as well, via its online shop. We chatted to the man behind the company to discover what inspired him to set it up.

‘I used to live in Australia and while I was there I worked in a sushi bar,’ says Stu. ‘After leaving Australia, I spent a bit of time in Asia and I just loved the food. I came back to England and, living in the North, there was just nothing like that around at the time. I missed those interesting, Asian flavours that keep evolving with every bite. I also wanted to start something for myself, having always worked for other people, so I just decided to go with it. It didn’t make any money for a long time, but we’ve built it slowly over the last fourteen years by just adding and adding and never going backwards.’

SushiSushi’s website started life as more of a blog than a shop, providing information on how to make sushi and authentic Japanese dishes. However, with experience in ecommerce, Stu noticed a gap in the market for selling Japanese products. ‘It all started with this sushi making gadget, which I found at a wholesaler. I wondered if we could just sell them on the site, with a little PayPal button, because at that point you couldn’t put an ecommerce site together very easily. I only bought six from the wholesaler, so it was very low risk.’ The gadgets sold out in no time and Stu went back to the wholesaler to buy more and more, until eventually he’d run them out of stock. At that point he got in touch directly with the company that made them and asked if he could start acting as a UK wholesaler, which he did from his flat. As they continued to fly off the shelves, he began packaging them with sushi rice and nori bought from local supermarkets, and the business grew from there.

image
Stuart visits suppliers and producers across Japan in search of the very best, most interesting products
image
He then brings them back to the UK to supply home cooks and Michelin-starred chefs alike

The website has come a long way from where it was in 2007 and now stocks over 1,000 products, almost all of which are directly imported from Japan. However, while SushiSushi has always sold directly to the public, it now also works with many of the best restaurants in the UK. ‘When we started, the market in Britain was for pseudo-Japanese food,’ explains Stu. ‘I wanted to sell higher-end, purer products but the only way to do that was to get a more premium client base. I built relationships with chefs that really wanted to push the boundaries and we created this movement of using Japanese ingredients in fine dining.’ Currently, SushiSushi supplies four of the seven three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, eleven of the seventeen two-Michelin-starred restaurants and an impressive number of one-star restaurants too. Stu’s knowledge of niche Japanese products means that he’s also able to advise chefs on certain products (‘We’ve also got that consultancy edge to us’) if they’re looking to add certain flavour profiles to a dish.

Supplying to restaurants of this level means it’s essential that every product offered by SushiSushi is top quality, which is why a huge amount of time and effort goes into sourcing the finest ingredients Japan has to offer. Stu usually travels over to Japan three or four times a year to seek out new products and meet the producers in person. While there, he does everything from attending trade shows in Tokyo with a translator in tow, to working with the Japanese government to travel to different regions of Japan. ‘The regional visits are always interesting because that’s where you find all the hyper-specialist stuff,’ says Stu. ‘The last place I went to, for example, was the Hiroshima district where they specialise in oysters and furikake.’

image

Given the amount of work that goes into sourcing the ingredients sold by SushiSushi, it’s no surprise to see how much of a success the company has become. Having started the business as little more than a passion project, Stu has carved a real niche for himself in the industry and is now known as the go-to man for Japanese ingredients in the UK. The same products he supplies world-class chefs with can be bought by home cooks eager to incorporate them into their own dishes – a rare opportunity indeed.

Below are some of the most popular product categories on SushiSushi’s website which Stu believes offers a perfect starting point for people wanting to really get to grips with the ingredients and flavours of Japanese cuisine. To check out the full range, however head to SushiSushi's website and begin your Japanese cooking journey today!

Ponzu

image

‘Ponzu is very popular within the industry at the moment. We’ve got one product in particular called Lycopins Tomato Ponzu, which around twenty Michelin-starred restaurants use. They often don’t mention it on the menu because it’s a bit of a secret but even some French restaurants add it to sauces because it tastes so good. I found it on one of my regional tours; there were these two ladies sitting with the product in the corner of this village hall on an island. I thought the bottle looked quite cool so I tried it, and the flavour blew my mind. They use a tomato vinegar to make it, made from tomatoes grown on this specially developed plantation which have been specifically bred to contain double the amount of lycopene (the molecule that makes tomatoes red) than normal. This is blended with local soy sauce, 24% fresh yuzu juice and dashi to create a product with fantastic balance and a lot of umami depth. Apart from the Lycopins Tomato Ponzu, we’ve got lots more really interesting ponzus too. Another is Shibanuma yuzu and katsuobushi ponzu which is made from fresh yuzu local to the Ibaraki prefecture in Japan, and it has the perfect balance of salty, sweet and sour. It has that perfect, classic ponzu taste.’

Browse through SushiSushi's range of ponzus here.

Dashi

image

‘When people think of dashi they tend to only associate it with that katsuobushi [bonito flake] flavour but it can actually be a stock of any kind – dashi literally translates to ‘stock’ in Japanese. I stumbled across one in particular on the northern island of Hokkaido at the very end of a trip. It’s a scallop shiro dashi, which means it’s a liquid stock that’s been concentrated fifteen times. If you made a stock purely out of dried scallops, which would be hugely expensive, you would get something similar to this; the difference is that this dashi has been balanced out with seasonings like mirin and kombu. It’s basically the essence of scallop flavour in liquid form and chefs tend to use it as a seasoning to enhance the flavour of fresh scallops. I can’t tell you which, but this is currently being used at a three-starred restaurant in London. We also stock a range of liquid dashi concentrates, as well as a selection of dashi vinegars and even a dashi soy sauce. The concentrates are great for adding real depth of flavour to a dish and because of how they’re produced in Japan, they can’t be replicated, so you’re getting a really unique flavour profile.’

Browse through SushiSushi's range of dashi here.

Dried rice koji (kome-kōji)

image

‘Koji is at the core of Japanese food and has been around for hundreds of years but most western chefs didn’t think about using it until recently. A lot of chefs in the UK got inspired by reading Noma’s Guide to Fermentation and started growing their own koji from scratch as a result, but in reality no one in Japan, bar maybe a couple of restaurants and sake makers, are getting in koji spores and doing it themselves. Kome-koji is a great product for people who want to get into using it properly. It's uncooked Japanese rice that's been impregnated with Koji spores, ready to use and in a really stable format. All you have to do is add water and salt, vac-pack it, sous vide it for twenty four hours and it turns into shio koji (a porridge-like substance used as a cure or marinade for meat, fish or even veg). You can also simply use it as a starter for making miso.’

Browse through SushiSushi's range of koji along with a bespoke collection of other products specifically put together for Great British Chefs here.