Cul­tural cook­ing found in trans­la­tion

Rick Stein & the Ja­panese Am­bas­sador 7.30pm, LifeStyle Food

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Graeme Blun­dell

A COU­PLE of sum­mers ago seafood guru Rick Stein at­tempted to serve the fresh­est sushi imag­in­able, us­ing mack­erel straight off the line while on a small boat off the Cor­nish coast.

While the ex­er­cise, recorded for his television se­ries Food He­roes , de­lighted Stein, it caused con­ster­na­tion in the re­fined lounge room of the Ja­panese am­bas­sador to Bri­tain, Yoshiji Nogami.

Word of the am­bas­sador’s dis­ap­proval reaches the cel­e­brated fish chef through a mu­tual friend and he is in­vited to the of­fi­cial res­i­dence. While he may know how to cook a Dover sole, he is told in no un­cer­tain terms he knows noth­ing of sushi or sashimi, es­pe­cially when it comes to mack­erel.

He clearly needs in­struc­tion, and so a quite be­guil­ing TV show is born. The Pad­stow fish cook is set the task of cook­ing a ban­quet of Ja­panese food for the am­bas­sador ‘‘ the Stein way’’, and an eight- day five- star visit to Ja­pan is ar­ranged.

The ever af­fa­ble Stein, with his pas­sion for all things piscine, finds him­self rather lost in the world of Lost in Trans­la­tion , where rit­ual, cus­tom and supreme po­lite­ness are the or­der of ev­ery day. And the de­liv­ery of many busi­ness cards in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

But it is the high qual­ity of the fish in the street cafes and stalls that truly im­presses him, eas­ily dis­pos­ing of the vaguely re­volt­ing sea slugs. He is, af­ter all, the leader of an in­ter­na­tional TV seafood cult.

Ter­rific scenes fol­low of his visit to Tokyo’s Tsu­jiki mar­kets, one of the world’s largest, ‘‘ a Dis­ney­land of seafood’’, huge glis­ten­ing tuna laid out like war­heads. Men stand astride the fish, hack­ing at them like Samu­rai war­riors prac­tis­ing their sword­craft.

Stein eats at hole- in- the- wall cafes across the mar­kets, cap­ti­vated by the the­atri­cal­ity of the sushi masters and of their knives, revered as al­most re­li­gious in­stru­ments. ‘‘ This is the bee’s knees,’’ Stein ex­claims, de­vour­ing the squid, bream and tuna fresh from the mar­ket, served art­fully with wasabi and vine­gar rice.

Awed, but never lost for words, he dis­cov­ers Ja­panese is a philo­soph­i­cal cui­sine, its ap­par­ent sim­plic­ity be­ly­ing cen­turies of cul­ture.

Then, af­ter sev­eral near heart at­tacks, he pre­pares his eight- course ban­quet at the Ja­panese em­bassy, tres­pass­ing on the kitchen of two highly ac­com­plished res­i­dent chefs.

One skil­fully re­moves the skin of mar­i­nated sar­dines for the starter, cut­ting del­i­cate di­a­mond de­signs.

‘‘ This hum­ble lit­tle fish is start­ing to re­sem­ble a very ex­pen­sive watch strap,’’ says the ob­vi­ously de­lighted Stein.

This is the sort of thing he does so well, high­light­ing the cul­tural val­ues of food and cook­ing, with a travel writer’s gift for nar­ra­tive, an oc­ca­sional lit­er­ary ref­er­ence or dryly ob­served aside thrown in for gar­nish.

Learn­ing Ja­panese: Rick Stein and Yoshiji Nogami

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