Check this out: Went to a sushi-making class at Mattison’s Riverside last week.
CCB and I don’t qualify as foodies, I don’t think, but we do cook our own meals five or six nights a week, and we have regular appointments with Food Network—so much so that I now find myself frustrated when I see someone on TV who doesn’t practice the tenets of simplicity and seasoning. How quickly processed foods fall out of your life when you learn to look up recipes instead of going straight for the can opener. We hardly ever venture from the supermarket’s perimeter anymore—not by design, exactly, but because our ingredients lists don’t call for it. Once you fix a few quality dishes yourself, it’s less tempting to go for the factory-made stuff, ‘cause you figure you can do better yourself (and anyone who’s ever tried Hollandaise in a jar knows what I’m talking about). Plus, don’t like olives? Or onions, or whatever? Just…leave ‘em out. Home-cooked stuff is customizable.
Sushi-making had been a bit of a vague curiosity floating around in my mind for a while now, and then CCB up and bought a kit off of Woot the other day, and we totally had homemade spicy tuna rolls. So yeah, the internet is a wondrous place, but it still helps to have a real live person walk you through it.
So, fortune of fortunes, I had a story to do about cooking classes, and Mattison’s Riverside—whose sushi we’ve sought out on many an occasion—had a sushi-making class on Thursday, part of the regular cooking demos there hosted by Chef Greg Campbell (Paul Mattison does the ones down south at Mattison’s 41).
Seaweed salad and edamame starters.
These classes are quite a production—30 or 40 people in an upstairs ballroom, with an array of ingredients laid out in front and even a camera and TV set up to get provide a closer view of the demonstrations. And Chef Greg is really engaging and charming, which, given the stereotype of misanthropic professional chefs, makes you wonder if this really came so easy to him from the get-go. Either way, he’s a helluva spokesperson—just the right combination of wry humor, self-deprecation and warm friendliness. “How to prepare sushi,” he jokes at the beginning of the demo. “First you drink a lot of alcohol, ‘cause it’s gonna be a mess.” Then later offers, “If you have issues finding [good sushi ingredients], give me a call. I’d love to help you out with your sushi habit.”
The charming Chef Campbell
And oh, the things I learned. I used up the note paper they provided. Some of these things you may already know, but I’m going to go ahead and admit that everything here was a revelation to me.)
–Weather affects the price of seafood; the harder it is to catch fish, the more you’re gonna pay for it.
–Sushi rice has sugar in it. (This is vaguely familiar, actually, but it’s something I conveniently forget when reassuring myself that a maki binge is good for me.)
–Raw fish in sushi isn’t cooked (…duh), but it is always frozen in order to kill the bacteria. (This doesn’t necessarily work for bacteria and parasites present in some fish, so stick to traditional sushi seafood for the raw applications.)
–Mattison’s orders whole fish, head-on, which guarantees you’re getting what you’re ordering. (For the record, I learned this failsafe from the chef at Crab & Fin, which also gets all of its seafood head-on.) In order to check the amount of quality tuna meat in a whole fish, they take out a plug of meat to see where the less desirable fatty part starts—like surveying geological layers.
Demonstrating how to cut a block of tuna for sushi.
–Mattison’s Riverside also has such potent wasabi powder that they mix it outside.
–High-quality soy sauce has less sodium in it than low-sodium Kikkoman.
–“Raw cinnamon takes all the moisture out of your mouth,” says the chef with a wry smile. “Go home and try it; it’s a hoot.” (I…don’t remember how cinnamon came up—the wasabi powder, I guess.)
Chef Campbell’s next class, “Cooking with Beef,” is March 31. I’d check it out, if I were you.