By Valerie Lum
One of Nobu Restaurants' very own sushi chefs put his skills to the test at the World Sushi Cup Competition in Tokyo on August 20 and 21.
Usman Khan has been a sushi chef at Nobu Cape Town for two years and faced off against 11 other competitors from around the world. This was not his first competition. In January, Khan was named one of the finalists for the Washuko World Challenge for his dish of Sweet Miso and Jalapeño Seared Salmon Sashimi. The Washuko World Challenge win, along with recommendations from the competition’s sponsors, were enough for Khan to be a finalist in the World Sushi Cup. And even though Khan did not win, he went into the competition with the expectation that it would be an excellent experience.
“I want to test myself as a sushi chef and learn from some of the great sushi chefs that will be there,” Khan wrote by email before the competition. “It doesn’t get bigger than The World Sushi Cup.”
Khan began his training in sushi in 2011 at Takumi in Cape Town, and has continued his training at Nobu Cape Town under the tutelage of Head Sushi Chef Keisuke “Kekke” Itoh.
In anticipation of the competition, Itoh taught Khan more traditional methods of sushi preparation such as cleaning fish in a bowl of water instead of under a running faucet. Itoh has also taught Khan how to prepare akagai clam (also called ark clam) which is known for its sweet and delicate flavor--as well as its fragile shell.
“Unfortunately, we do not get them in Cape Town,” Itoh wrote by email, “so I taught him how to prepare them and he also checked how to do it on the internet.”
The finalists prepared Edomae Sushi, which is the most traditional form of sushi, from start to finish. This means they not only had to assemble the sushi, they also had to shuck, cut and pickle the raw ingredients in a limited amount of time before they could even get to the assembly section.
“I am going back to basics for Edomae sushi and making sure my technique is perfect,” Khan said.
There was also a Creative Sushi section of the competition where the finalists could show a little flair with various techniques, but still within the Edomae sushi realm.
If previous competitions were any indication, all of the competitors had to be at the absolute top of their game. Last year, the finalists lost points for details such as their sushi not being the same height and for grains of rice sticking to the outer part of the nori.
Although Khan is currently immersed in the minutiae of sushi tradition, he said working at Nobu has shown him the appeal of culinary innovation--like fusion sashimi appetizers.
“I learned (techniques) to use in making sushi like putting different types of toppings on sushi to enhance the taste and flavor,” Khan said. “It is something I experienced here at Nobu and I’m still amazed by it.”
As for the competition itself, Khan looked forward to meeting and learning from the other chefs, some of whom have decades of experience. He felt that the World Sushi Cup is a good forum to exchange culinary knowledge from all over the world.
“It is always remarkable to see how chefs infuse the ingredients available to them in to their culinary specialty," Khan said, “in this case, sushi.”
He was also looking forward to just exploring the city of Tokyo itself. Especially the sprawling Tsukiji Market, the largest and perhaps busiest fish market in the world.
“It’s every sushi chef’s heaven” Khan said.
Tokyo MX News did a short video interview with Khan while he was at the competition. You may view it here.