Kabocha the key to Curry Cook-Off concoction


CREATIVE CURRY — Mami Nakanishi’s “? Curry” won her the “Most Creative” award (above).

Carol Park-Li and her daughter Tamako had more than their fill of curry over the past several weeks, as the two experimented with various recipes in anticipation of a friendly competition.

But in the end, mother appeared to know best as she ended up winning top honors at the eighth annual Japanese American Religious Federation Curry Cook-Off, held Oct. 9 at Christ United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco’s Japantown.

In a nine-entry competition that featured imaginative names to match equally creative curries — with titles such as “4 Noble Truths,” “Brand X”

and “Jubilant Curry” — Carol Park-Li’s “The Last Samurice Ultimate Kabocha Chop” took top honors, beating out daughter Tamako Park-Li’s “Curry Joes,” among others.

Park-Li’s culinary creation won both the $100 People’s Choice award and

QUEEN OF CURRY — Carol Park-Li (left) receives the People’s Choice award for the best overall curry from Japanese American Religious Federation President Kei Nagai (right), as Christ United Presbyterian Church Pastor Grace Suzuki looks on.

was the choice of a panel of judges that included jazz composer Mark Izu, storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki, 2010 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Arisa Hiroi, Nichi Bei Foundation President Kenji G. Taguma and Hiroshi Shimizu, president of both the San Francisco chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Tule Lake Committee.

So what were mom’s secret ingredients? Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), daikon (Japanese radish), miso (soy bean paste) and mirin (sweet cooking wine). Also in the mix were three types of curry cubes, two kinds of meat —

pork and beef — and “a lot of aloha,” said Park-Li.

The curry concoction took a day and-a-half to prepare.

“We were both experimenting with this,” said daughter Tamako. “We had

CURRY CONCOCTIONS — Nine entries (above) were sampled and voted on by judges and attendees alike at the eighth annual Japanese American Religious Federation Curry Cook-Off Oct. 9. photos by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

two months of curry.”

Carol said that kabocha ­was her most important ingredient because it “gives a little sweetness” to the curry.

“It’s really good for you,” she said, noting that it was the first time she used kabocha in curry. “It has a lot of fiber.”

There were two other “People’s Choice” prizes as well, with Matt Stimson’s “4 Noble Truths” taking “Best Vegetarian” curry honors — beating out three other such entries — and Mami Nakanishi’s “? Curry” winning the “Most Creative” prize.

Nakanishi said she was “very surprised” and “honored” to have her curry chosen in that category, while shedding some light on the mysterious entry.

“Ground meats, lots of minced fresh vegetables, and mystery soup,” said Nakanishi, in disclosing ingredients to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I always mix with corn for sweetness flavor for kids and seniors.”

Konko Church of San Francisco Rev. Rodney Yano’s “Simple Chicken Curry” took second place honors in the People’s Choice overall category.

The Curry Cook-Off, which also included a raffle, is the sole annual fundraiser for the Japanese American Religious Federation (JARF), a consortium of 12 churches serving the Japanese American community in San Francisco. Incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1968, JARF has established the Nihonmachi Terrace affordable housing for seniors and families, as well as Kokoro Assisted Living in Japantown.

Member organizations include the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Hokkeshu Buddhist Church of Honnoji, Rissho Koseikai Buddhist Church, Sokoji Buddhist Temple, Nichiren Buddhist Church, Christ Episcopal Church-Sei Ko Kai, Christ United Presbyterian Church, Pine United Methodist Church, St. Xavier Japanese Catholic Society, Seventh Day Adventist Japanese Church, Konko Church of San Francisco and Tenrikyo America West Church.

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