But there are definitive experts out there and Trevor Corson is at the top of that esteemed list. Corson is the author of a Zagat best-food-book-of-the-year pick “The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice,” an occasional judge on Iron Chef America, and the only “Sushi Concierge” in the U.S., based primarily in New York City.
Luckily for all the sushiheads in DC reading this, Trevor is also teaching a class at CulinAerie called “All Things Sushi.” The first class is this Saturday, Oct. 17. The lucky participants – the class maxes out at 32 students – will sip sake and receive hands-on instruction on how to make sushi at home. But DC is a town of show-offs and ‘splainers, so Trevor’s class will also discuss the history and culture of sushi while teaching participants how to order sushi and eat it in the proper Japanese style, making you the hottest star at the sushi bar.
We caught up with Corson recently and he was kind enough to share his insights on the state of sushi in America and the little differences that can help you win over a sushi chef.
You’ve established yourself as one of the foremost authorities on sushi here in America – what was it that inspired you to focus on sushi after your initial success with lobsters?
My two biggest obsessions in life are nature and East Asia. I fell in love with nature, and the ocean in particular, during my boyhood summers on the Maine coast. By the time I attended high school at Sidwell Friends in Washington, I was determined to become a marine biologist. But on a whim, I signed up for Sidwell’s unusual Chinese language program. Through Sidwell, I was then fortunate enough to receive scholarships to study in both Japan and China. I went on to live in East Asia for five years. I never became a marine biologist, but eventually I did move back to Maine to work on fishing boats and write my first book, “The Secret Life of Lobsters.” My second book, “The Story of Sushi,” was my way of returning to my interest in East Asia, and of reconciling my two passions. My interests in marine science and Asian culture finally came together — through food.
It seems like more and more Americans are developing a familiarity and even a comfort with sushi, but reading your work it becomes clear pretty quickly that most of us aren’t getting a particularly authentic experience. What would you say are the pros and the cons to the Americanized sushi experience?
The degree to which sushi has taken root here is nothing short of astonishing, and in “The Story of Sushi” I describe how that happened, which in itself is a fascinating tale. As sushi became not only a Japanese meal but really an American one as well, it’s evolved into a very different beast. The fact is, most of what we eat at sushi restaurants in America today — as well as how we eat it — was invented right here in the U.S.A., and bears little resemblance to the culinary tradition of sushi in Japan. There are a lot of cons to this, and the biggest one is taste. We’ve imposed an American palate heavy on fat, spiciness, sugar, and salt onto sushi, and as a result we’re missing out on the subtler flavors and textures that tend to be highlighted in the traditional sushi experience. That said, the history of sushi in Japan is itself one of constant change. So I think sushi can evolve in appealing new directions in the West, as long as we make the effort to learn about and honor the unique culinary qualities of the tradition at the same time.
More Q&A with Trevor after the jump! (more…)