Chef Masaharu Morimoto, known as one of the original Iron Chefs, takes on the role of judge and mentor in his new sushi competition show “Morimoto’s Sushi Master.”
Presented exclusively on the Roku Channel and spanning six episodes, the series — hosted by Lyrica Okano from Marvel’s “Runaways” — will feature eight talented chefs from across the nation. They will face challenges ranging from whole fish butchery to mastering conveyor-belt-style sushi service, known as kaitenzushi.
With a cash prize of $25,000 at stake, the contestants will be evaluated not only by Morimoto, but also by judges such as award-winning cookbook author and content creator Kenji López-Alt and chef Dakota Weiss.
Chef Morimoto talked with NextShark over email about his new show and why he encourages others to break the rules when it comes to making sushi.
Competing chefs include Debbie Lee, John Sugimura, Frances Tariga, Jason Minoda, Eric LeVine, Michael Collantes, Venoy Rogers III and “Hell’s Kitchen” and “MasterChef” alum Lauren Lawless.
NextShark: How did you decide that now was the time to create a cooking competition show like this? Sushi and sushi culture have become very popular. Do you think something like this could have been made five to 10 years ago?
Morimoto: Both sushi and sushi culture have gained popularity over the years. When Ample Entertainment reached out to me about a unique idea for a new cooking competition show, we brainstormed a few ideas and came up with “Sushi Master” and thought Roku may be the best network to showcase it.
I believe that the current culinary landscape, with its openness to new experiences, is the perfect stage for a show like “Sushi Master.” However, would it have been possible five to 10 years ago? Perhaps, but the timing may not have been as ideal as it is now. Regardless of that — we are excited to hear what people think of the show.
Many people know you from “Iron Chef.” How has your experience in cooking competitions shaped you as a judge for this show?
I am very grateful that I got to be on “Iron Chef” and “Iron Chef America.” It taught me another level of focus while dealing with stress and pressure. I was able to use the fierce competition to inspire a new level of creativity with my dishes. I’m very proud to be called Iron Chef Morimoto and feel a certain responsibility when people call me that. I would like to be a good mentor for many young generations who are looking to be chefs.
How did you find a balance between being a judge and giving feedback while also acting as a mentor to the contestants on the show? It seemed like you genuinely wanted to help them grow as individuals, even providing them with a proverb with each elimination.
I believe that as a judge, it is my responsibility to evaluate the dishes objectively and provide honest feedback. However, I also wanted to serve as a mentor, guiding the contestants and helping them grow as individuals. Each elimination presented an opportunity for me to share some wisdom with the departing chef as a way to inspire and motivate them for future success.
In the show, you encourage chefs to break sushi rules, despite the traditional and rule-based nature of sushi. Why do you see breaking the rules as a positive thing?
I believe that breaking the rules with sushi can lead to innovation and creativity. It is through experimentation and pushing boundaries that we are able to uncover new flavors, combinations and techniques. Breaking the rules is not about disregarding tradition, but rather expanding on it and breathing new life into the craft.
In one of the episodes, you tell a chef that sushi isn’t just Japanese. What did you mean by that?
When food travels, it adapts to its local culture, custom and ingredients. There are sushi restaurants in New York and other countries in the world that are uniquely different from the ones in Japan.
What are your favorite styles of sushi and types of fish to eat?
To this day, my favorite kind of sushi is temaki, nori rolled by hand into a cylinder or cone shape around vinegared rice and a filling. It’s the only type of sushi — perhaps the only dish of any kind, in fact — that the chefs [pass] directly to the diner. There’s a reason, of course — passing it directly to the customer is meant to encourage them to eat it immediately, so the nori is super-crispy and crackles under their teeth as they bite.
What do you hope viewers will learn or take away from watching “Sushi Master”?
I hope the audience will gain a deeper appreciation for the artistry, skill and creativity involved in sushi making. They will witness the intense dedication and passion of the contestants, as well as their ability to adapt and innovate while respecting the traditions of sushi. I also hope to inspire people to try making sushi at home and experiment with new flavors and techniques.
“Morimoto’s Sushi Master” premieres on the Roku Channel on Friday.