Last night I had the pleasure of attending The 4th Annual Original Sushi Competition, held at Chino Latino Restaurant in the Riverbank Plaza Hotel. The competition, organized by Eat Japan, aims to promote Japanese cuisine and culture in Britain. The venue was packed, with tickets selling out early this year, and no wonder…

Greeted in reception by a host of delicious smells filling my nostrils, I made a beeline for the free buffet. I came well prepared, having starved myself all day in anticipation of the gourmet feast awaiting me, and I wasn’t disappointed.

A few glasses of complimentary sake later and I was chatting away in my best pidgin Japanese to some of the most well respected sushi chefs in the country, brought together under one roof as the ‘Seven Sushi Samurai’ (try saying that without sounding like an alcoholic) to demonstrate their unique skills for the assembled guests. A major highlight of the night being the chance to sample their creations without having to rob the nearest bank.

My taste buds were certainly in for a treat at the Mitsukoshi table. Hideki Sugiura designed his ‘Tuna Maki with Wasabi Mascarpone and Ikura’ specifically for the event, claiming the idea came to him in a dream meeting with his ‘Sushi God’. ‘Marinated Salmon Nigiri’ by Hiroyuki Saotome of Nobu was a melt-in-the-mouth taste sensation, worthy of the reputation that precedes him. Also notable was the ‘Prawn Roll with Seared Wagu Beef’ served by Marcio Souza Masuda of fusion restaurant Cocoon.

Of the 598 entries for this year’s Original Sushi Competition, four recipes were selected for the final. These were: ‘Crunchy Makizushi’ by Cynthia Awor-Ojera; ‘Sushi Gateau’ by Hiroyuki Nakase; ‘Kushi-Sushi’ by Yasuhiro Komatsu; and ‘Chocolate Orange Moo-shi’ by Jasminder Sohi (surely selected for comedy value).
The judging panel, which included celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ fame; Henry Harris of Racine in Knightsbridge; cookery editor of The Times Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack of The Independent on Sunday had the unenviable task of choosing the winner. After much conjugating and deliberating, Cynthia Awor-Ojera was announced the lucky recipient of two flights to Japan, courtesy of ANA.
This year also saw the advent of the Photogenic Sushi Competition, won by professional advertising photographer Frederic Aranda with his picture ‘Let Me Try!’ of a young girl eating sushi as her pet dog gives her the ‘feed me’ eyes. All together now, “Aaaaaah”.

Towards the end of the proceedings and despite my admittedly weak protests of ‘Erm, I’m actually a journalist too…’ a Japanese TV channel decided I was to represent my country in an interview, despite the fact I was quite pissed and had a bit of rice stuck to my chin. They’ll let anyone on TV these days. Maybe I should work on my aloof-member-of-the-press stare in future, but right now I’m off to start planning my entry for next year’s competition. Mmm…‘English Breakfast Sushi’, now there’s an idea…