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Old 20-03-2007, 11:06 PM posted to
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Default More on the Sushi Police

Leaving aside the whole issue of whether this is good/bad,
this fellow Jerry Kim makes some pretty blatantly incorrect statements
the origins of sushi and when edomaezushi appeared in Japan.
From his comments I find it hard to believe he's a trained itamae.

L.A. Restaurants Brace For Japanese 'Sushi Police'
From the Nichi Bei Times Weekly March 15, 2007

Kyodo News

LOS ANGELES - The Japanese agriculture ministry has stirred unease
among restaurateurs in Los Angeles with its plan to send food experts
to judge the authenticity of Japanese eateries, an idea that has been
dubbed "the sushi police."

Los Angeles is home to more than 500 restaurants that claim to be

Officials of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries, claiming that some of the food served in Japanese
restaurants abroad is not recognizable as Japanese, announced late
last year that they planned to create a panel of food experts to
travel abroad and inspect restaurants for authenticity.

The panel has met twice so far, and according to ministry officials,
will convene for a final meeting prior to the end of March before
presenting a recommendation to the ministry for dispatching the "sushi
police" between April 1 this year and March 31 next year.

To allay fears the "police" nickname may arouse, ministry officials
have said the panel will only check places that volunteer for

Jake S. Oota, the owner of R23 in downtown Los Angeles, said he has no
worries about his highly regarded sushi restaurant meeting the panel's
standards for certification. "We are one of the most authentic
Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles. They are welcome to come here and
check us out."

Ministry officials say that one of the aims of the program is to help
the world better appreciate Japan's culinary arts by correcting
misunderstandings about what has come to pass as "real" Japanese fare.
Oota agrees that "fusion-style" cuisine sold as "Japanese" has had an
impact on many Americans' understanding, or rather, misunderstanding,
of what is authentic Japanese.

Oota recalled that an angry customer once berated him for not serving
a "crunch roll" (a roll made with deep-fried ingredients or deep-fried
itself) at R23.

While unconcerned about the status of his own restaurant, Oota, an
American of Japanese and Korean descent, says he worries for the fate
of less-traditional restaurants owned by non-Japanese. "More than half
of the Japanese restaurants here are run by Koreans," he said. "People
are hysterical."

Some critics have suggested that xenophobia is one of the motives
behind the program, while others fear that the panel will discriminate
against non-Japanese restaurant owners, despite ministry officials'
assurances that this will not be the case.

Asked to comment about the "sushi police," sushi chef Jerry Kim
laughs, "Ooh, sounds scary!" Kim, who learned how to make sushi in
Chicago and now works at Ginza Sushi in Koreatown, an area in Los
Angeles, where most Japanese restaurants are owned by Koreans and
Korean-Americans, said, "I'm not worried because I'm proud of the way
we make sushi and sashimi. Besides, I make Korean-style sushi and
sashimi, so what can the Japanese government even say?"

Kim said the Japanese do not have much right to claim sushi as a
product of their food culture. 'Sushi and sashimi are originally from
China and Korea," he insists. "The Japanese have only started eating
sushi since World War II. Koreans and Chinese have been making sushi
and sashimi for thousands of years."

Tom Cardenas is one of the partnership that owns six ultra-trendy
Japanese-fusion restaurants in the Los Angeles area that attract hip,
young crowds and celebrities. He said in an interview at Sushi Roku,
his West Hollywood venture, "We know we are pretty authentic so we
have all the confidence in the world that we would pass."

Cardenas calls Sushi Roku's food "modern Asian cuisine." "The chefs at
Sushi Roku take traditional Japanese preparation to another level by
adding things like jalapenos, olive oil, and caviar."

Despite Cardenas' confidence, such unorthodox combinations might
disqualify his restaurant for certification by the "sushi police," who
will base part of their rating on the use of "authentic" ingredients.

Japanese ministry officials have said that new standards for Japanese
food may help increase exports by encouraging restaurants abroad to
use as many Japanese ingredients as possible.

But Cardenas is skeptical. "Ninety percent or more of our ingredients
come from Japan, but restaurant owners are not going to change the way
they buy their products based on this certification."

Yoshikazu Maeda, head chef of the Thousand Cranes restaurant in the
Los Angeles New Otani Hotel, said while preparing fish "flown first-
class from Japan" for the evening meal, "It is impossible for us to
use only Japanese products. Even Japanese restaurants in Japan
probably don't use 100 percent Japanese products. Kikkoman (soy
sauce), for example, is produced in the U.S."

The veteran sushi chef is not bothered so much by what ingredients he
is being asked to use, but by why the Japanese government has suddenly
taken such interest in the food industry.

"My biggest concern is the purpose," Maeda said. "For instance, the
French government spends a lot of money and time maintaining the
standards for French food because they believe that food is culturally
very important. I don't know why all of a sudden the Japanese
government has begun to think about it."

"In the end, it's the customer who decides," Maeda says. "If the
government wants to spend Japanese taxpayers' money, they can go
ahead, but our customers have already ranked us. What matters most is
the response we get from our customers after every meal."

Not all restaurateurs in Los Angeles feel the same way about the
ministry's plans. Yuki Kadota, the manager of Izayoi, an "izakaya" - a
drinking place with food - in Little Tokyo, says she believes the
government is doing what is necessary to protect Japanese food

"They want to make sure people from other countries learn what proper
Japanese food is. In America, people think the 'California roll' and
'teriyaki' are authentic, but, really, American teriyaki is completely
different from authentic Japanese teriyaki," Kadota said. "People will
get the wrong knowledge of Japanese food if it goes unchecked."

Kadota also said she believes being checked for authenticity will, in
the end, help her restaurant more than hurt it. "If the government
sends a special person to check how authentic our food is, it will be
good for us," she said. "We have to be corrected and made to do things
properly. We can't be lazy."

Kadota's enthusiasm for authenticity does not seem to take into
account the fact that one of her chefs specializes in Japanese-French
or Japanese-Italian fusion food, garnishing the restaurant's menu with
traditional foods infused with ingredients such as prosciutto, olive
oil, and balsamic sauces.

In the end, many wonder whether or not restaurants will really respond
to the threat of Japan's "sushi police" the way the government hopes.

Even Kadota, who says she supports the Japanese ministry's actions,
said that regardless of how the panel rates her restaurant, it
probably will not make much of a difference.

"If they say that our restaurant is not authentic, I don't think we
will change our menu. Not all our customers are Japanese, so we need a
few non-Japanese items. And, sometimes it is our Japanese customers
who want to try something other than traditional Japanse food.

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