For anyone who cringes at the concept of Indianised Japanese food (read: sushi served with dollops of mayo or a bowl of ramen dowsed with chilli flakes), meet the chef who is unwilling to ‘localise’ for the sake of popularity.

But you wouldn’t expect the chef in question, Edwin Sta or chef Ed as he’s popularly known, to localise his cuisine anyway. After all, he cooked for eight years at Nobu – the world’s most popular Japanese restaurant chain. So across the sushi bar in Ukiyo at The Ritz-Carlton, Pune, you could call for exotic sushi like the hamachi and pineapple salsa with yuzu soy.

Inside story

How did the 35-year-old chef become a specialist in modern Japanese cuisine? “I started as a sushi chef,” says chef Ed. “Back in the day, it would take five years to start cooking sushi rice, so I was lucky, because I learnt it for just one year before progressing to the next step.”

Tofu, bok choy, asparagus and Japanese mushroom with wasabi pepper sauce

He moved to India in August last year. “After I left the London Nobu, I was head hunted by a third party in India. I had second thoughts about it because I had just watched a true life movie called Hotel Mumbai!” says the chef breaking into peals of laughter.

Of course, leading a culinary team in India was fraught with challenges. “It was difficult to get them (the team of chefs) to understand the flavours and ingredients. I introduced them to a whole lot of new ingredients, like Toubanjan (broad bean chilli paste) and yuzu kosho (citrus chilli paste).”

Culinary punch

Though chef Ed can be quite a martinet about the authenticity of his cuisine, he does not mind making tiny tweaks to suit the Indian palate. “We have to, because I don’t think the Indian market is ready for authentic Japanese yet. India is more into bold flavours. So for instance, I try to punch up the soy content or add a hint of chilly to miso. Miso is the mother sauce,” he explains.

Baked lamb dumpling with ginger soy

Baked lamb dumpling with ginger soy

He grew up in South Africa where, after finishing school he took up the culinary arts. Cooking was hardly in his blood: both his parents worked in the textile and garment industry. “My dad trained in Japan as a mechanical engineer for sewing machines while my mom was into designing. But we are from a province in the Philippines that is well known for culinary skills. So at a young age, my brother and I were exposed to cooking. My dad would always add raw fish and use Japanese cooking techniques while experimenting with my mom’s cooking, and then incorporate it into Filipino food.”

Avocado and yuzu kosho tartare with sichimi rice crisp and crispy quinoa

Avocado and yuzu kosho tartare with sichimi rice crisp and crispy quinoa

South Africa had no Japanese cooking school for chef Ed to train in. “But when I was asked to choose a restaurant for apprenticeship, I was fortunate to start at small Japanese restaurants,” says chef Ed.

Bold and beautiful

However, he says his former boss was his mentor and favourite chef. “When I worked for Nobu, I really looked up to him due to his philosophy. Jiro (Ono, the Japanese chef who runs the sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo) also has my respect.”

Chef Ed opened Nobu kitchens in Cape Town, the Philippines and London before deciding to move to India.

Hindustantimes

Today, his fried rice and stir-fried noodles are fast-movers on the menu at Ukiyo. “Apart from that, our baby spinach salad and Robata do pretty well too,” adds the chef.

As for the Indian palate taking to the subtle flavours of Japanese cuisine, he says, “I still think they are getting there. There are a few well-travelled guests that understand and are beginning to know the Japanese scene.”

He is hopeful that the “bold flavours, crunch and gravy” of his cuisine keeps the guests happy across the sushi counter!

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From HT Brunch, February 9, 2020

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This post “Food thoughts: Sushi so fine!” is originally from Hindustan Times – tech-features published on 2020-02-08 06:33:09. Hope you have liked the post. Don’t forget to share it using the social share buttons below this post.

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