Japanese-Canadian Hidekazu Tojo has won several awards during his legendary 40-year career as a chef. Mostly recognized for inventing the hugely popular California roll, the Vancouver-based culinary master is now 66 and is still at the top of his game.
Just recently, Japan’s ministry of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries appointed Tojo as the nation’s goodwill ambassador for Japanese cuisine.
Hidekazu Tojo’s creation: California roll
The talented chef and owner of Tojo’s Restaurant began his culinary journey very early in his life. At a young age, he traveled to Osaka to study and further develop the cooking skills he learned at home. When he moved to Vancouver in 1971, he brought along his already honed talent.
In Vancouver, he created what he originally called “Tojo-maki,” which he later changed to “California roll” because of its popularity with Los Angeles visitors.
“When I came to Vancouver, most Western people did not eat raw fish,” he shared in an interview with the Globe and Mail
. “When I went shopping for fish at stores back then, the fish was very fishy, very old. So I went to the fisherman wharf to get the very freshest. I explained that I needed fish caught that morning so I could serve it that afternoon.”
Named “California roll” because of its popularity with Los Angeles visitors
When he noticed that Westerners did not eat seaweed, he rolled the sushi inside-out to hide the ingredient.
“A lot of people from out of town came to my restaurant – lots from Los Angeles – and they loved it. That’s how it got called the California roll,” Tojo said. “I was against Japanese tradition with the inside-out roll, but I liked it, and my customers liked it. And so it spread all over – even into Japan.”