Friday, January 14, 2011

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse, Pt. 1

The chime of the incoming e-mail message sounded normal enough. But when I clicked to read it I nearly fell out of my chair. Someone from Tourism Vancouver was asking if I'd be interested in coming to that city for a three-day culinary tour of the latest hot spots, along with a cocktail showcase previewing the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail festival and a sampling of restaurants participating in Dine Out Vancouver.

Assuming they must surely have me confused with some other writer, I nonetheless hit the reply button as quickly as I could, hoping it would get there before they realized their error. Then, being the nice people that Canadians are reputed to be, they'd be too polite to rescind the invite. Right?

The itinerary arrived a few days later and I found out they'd not only be flying me up, but I'd be housed at one of the newest hotels in town, the Fairmont Pacific Rim, smack dab on the harbor overlooking Stanley Park and directly opposite the Coast mountain range that rings the city (top photo). They'd invited a dozen writers to come on the tour, including my neighbor, author Ivy Manning, a veteran of many tours who could dispense sage advice to a noob like myself.

First up after pitching my bag in the hotel room was a sushi making class and sake pairing with Chef Jason Harris (left) of the Fairmont's Oru restaurant. A very personable guy (nice people, the Canadians, remember?), he'd decided to have us make albacore nigiri, the fish and a smear of wasabi perched on a compressed scoop of rice, as well as a tamaki cone filled with either a salmon or spicy albacore mixture along with our choice of vegetables.

The key with nigiri, as any of you experienced sushi makers know, is to keep your hands moist so the rice sticks to itself rather than turning your hands into rice-covered mittens. Chef Harris prefers a special sushi rice called koshikari, since it keeps its shape while still sticking together. Then it's just forming the rice into a tight little log, swiping the slice of fish with a smear of wasabi and placing it on top of the rice. A little pressure on the sides of the fish to conform it to the rice and seal the deal and you're done. Wow!

The tamaki was fascinating, since there's a real trick to forming the cone. Moistening your hands, take a small amount of rice and, with your fingertips, form it into a triangle at the top of a sheet of nori (about 4" by 8"). Then place matchsticks of vegetables or other fillings at an angle across the rice (right). Take the upper left-hand corner of the nori and gently fold it down to the right, making a 45° angle. Continue rolling until it forms a cone (below left). Simple!

Chef Harris emphasized that it's important to eat the cone as soon as possible after making it, since the moisture in the rice will quickly soak into the nori and it won't have the crisp freshness that lends so much to the texture of the cone.

There was a little time left in the class before we sat down to lunch, so Chef Harris showed us how to make a simple sushi roll. With moistened fingertips, cover three quarters of the nori sheet (approx. 4" by 8") with a thin layer of rice, arranging the fillings at one end. Then, gently but firmly, roll it toward the open end.

Again there's a trick, and that's to wrap the bamboo sushi mat with plastic wrap so the roll won't stick to it. Then cover the roll with the mat and gently press it with your hands to seal the roll. All that's left is to slice the roll crosswise into rounds and eat.

Of the two sakes we paired with these, one was made by artisan sake producer Masa Shiroki of Osake on Granville Island. All of the sakes he makes are junmai sakes, that is, they're made from rice, water, yeast, and the micro-organism called koji. It's unfiltered, with a very light and slightly sweet taste and a body similar to sauvignon blanc. The other was, to my surprise, from Oregon-made Momokawa sake, with a slightly drier taste and smooth body. Both were terrific, and made me want to explore this wine a little more.

I'm thinking a small cocktail party with sushi fixings would be a fun twist on the usual snacks-and-drinks gathering, plus people would be astonished at not only how easy it was, but that I learned to do it on a trip to Canada. Who'd expect that?

For more of my culinary tour of this gorgeous city, see Part 2: Having a Gas and Part 3: A Grand Tour.


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Ho utterly exciting. Vancouver is a real foodie town with so much to offer. I hope you enjoyed yourself in our province. I hope to make it to Portland one day and check out the food cart scene.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Wait till you read the second installment of our whirlwind tour of Gastown. Talk about foodie heaven!