THE "EATSHOP"

I’m an omnivore through and through. I enjoy the full range of ingredients available to me and will, in most cases, try almost any ingredient at least once. That being said, I am also a curious eater. It is one of my great passions to explore new foods, techniques, and flavors so that I can continue broadening my appreciation for the culinary arts. So when I saw that the Good Food Movement would be hosting an “eatshop” with Chef Hitoshi Sugiura to highlight Japanese vegan cuisine, I jumped at the chance to expand my experience with plant-based cooking.

Chef Hitoshi Sugiura at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills
Chef Hitoshi Sugiura

Chef Hitoshi Sugiura has a very broad background. He is the son of a sushi master and is regarded as a fugu master. Chef Hitoshi currently works as the Executive Chef for Japan’s Onodera Group, which operates high-end restaurants in Japan and the United States. In Hawaii, the Onodera group operates Sushi Onodera (omakase sushi) and Teppanyaki Onodera (wagyu beef specialty). While he oversees a restaurant group known for amazing fish and beef, Chef Hitoshi also currently holds the distinction as Japan’s top vegan chef.

SHOJIN RYORI

Hosted at Vegan Hills restaurant in Kaimuki, last night’s Eatshop featured dishes prepared by Chef Hitoshi which highlighted and modernized shojin ryori cuisine. This traditional vegan cooking style of Japanese Buddhist monks makes use of many techniques to enhance the flavors of plant-based ingredients. Chef Hitoshi applies some modern twists in both presentation and flavor.

The “eatshop” is more than just tasting, it’s about learning. We got to watch Chef Hitoshi prepare each dish step-by-step as he explained the process and the reasons for using each ingredient.

Vegetable bouquet at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills
Vegetable bouquet with flowers of daikon, beet, carrot, and golden beets over shiraae (mashed tofu) and walnuts

Described as Chef Hitoshi’s signature vegan dish, this “bouquet” is an elevated take on fresh vegetables and tofu. The thinly sliced vegetables are treated with a simple touch of salt and yuzu citrus, then carefully arranged around a dome of mashed tofu to mimic the appearance of a flower bouquet. The flavors of this dish are very clean and refreshing. The yuzu and fresh vegetables pair well with the mild flavor of the mashed tofu.

"Lomi lomi" carrot salad with cumin seeds, cilantro, and sesame oil

This salad is a paradox. On the one hand, it has just a few simple ingredients, with the majority of the dish being comprised of fresh carrots and chopped cilantro. But on the other, it contains a deep level of flavor and spice that contradicts what your palate expects when presented with a bowl of seemingly plain vegetables. The punch of flavor comes from cumin seeds, which infuse the vegetables with their spiced quality through the act of lomi lomi (essentially massaging the ingredients together).

Stuffed mushroom at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills
Mushroom stuffed with its own stem, miso, shiitake mushroom broth, and nuts

Chef Hitoshi worked with a tabletop burner to sautee the filling of the mushroom stem, miso, and nuts. The umami flavors of the stuffed mushroom are enhanced with the use of a shiitake mushroom broth, which was created by soaking dry shiitake in water overnight. This was another dish that, with just a few simple ingredients, was greater than the sum of its parts.

Coconut green curry at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills
Coconut green curry with eggplant, chickpeas, onion, garlic, ginger, shiitake broth, and coconut water

This curry was the furthest departure from traditional shojin ryori cuisine of the night. Traditionally, strong flavors like onion, garlic, or ginger at not used in shojin ryori, but Chef Hitoshi wanted to showcase additional plant-based flavors by using these aromatics in the base of the curry. The shiitake mushroom broth’s umami made another appearance in this dish, but this time with a hint of coconut water. Coconut cream made this the richest dish of the evening, but one that finished very clean and did not weigh down the palate.

Tamagawa
Tamagawa "Time Machine" Heirloom Amber Sake

A sake pairing was offered for each dish. All the pairings matched well with the flavor notes of each course. Chef Hitoshi was particularly excited to end the night with a sampling of this “Time Machine” amber dessert sake. The sweet notes of molasses and dried fruit definitely shine through. The amber color and mild earth notes of the sake are derived from an aging process.

Lemon pucker cupcake at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills
Lemon pucker plant based cupcake

We ended the night with an optional plant-based cupcake which came from a local Hawaii baker out in Ewa Beach. The lemon pucker’s slightly sour “frosting” was balanced well with the sweetness of the cupcake. The cake element was not as moist as I am used to with traditional cupcakes, but overall a great vegan dessert option.

IN SUMMARY

I came away from Eatshop II with a new appreciation for vegan and plant-based cooking. The use of just a few ingrdients, treated the right way, yielded flavorful dishes without the use of animal products or added fat. Chef Hitoshi Sugiura kept stressing that the techniques and recipes he prepared tonight were “easy to make at home”, and encouraged us to remember the steps so we could recreate his dishes for ourselves. I can see myself potentially recreating the lomi lomi carrot salad at home!

Chef Hitoshi Sugiura at Eatshop II at Vegan Hills

Eatshop II by Chef Hitoshi Sugiura
Hosted by Good Food Movement and Vegan Hills