A sushi pioneer’s American Dream



By Shiro Kashiba (Seattle: Chin Music Press, 2011, 320 pp., $20, paperback)

Filled with childhood photographs, notes and personal anecdotes, “Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer” is a memoir-meets-recipe book that covers an illustrious career spanning 70 years, seven restaurants and two countries.

When Shiro first arrived in Seattle in the ‘60s, sushi was not the popular menu item we have come to know and love today. At Tanaka Restaurant, the first restaurant Shiro worked at in the U.S., he observed most people didn’t eat sashimi or edomae (Edo style) sushi — the most popular item on the menu was futomaki. But over the years, Shiro began giving a new spin on the traditional scene of edomae sushi, evolving the classic fish combinations of bluefin, yellowtail and octopus to geoduck, smelt and salmon. Even with different seafood selections dictated by the Pacific Northwest, Kashiba’s culinary roots are steeped in tradition. Born and raised in Kyoto and apprenticing in Tokyo, Shiro stays true to his roots, keeping to his classical training and shun (foods that are in season).

Picking matsutake mushrooms from the Cascades to harvesting kelp by hand from Shilshole Bay, Shiro has taken the time to learn and maximize what nature had to offer in his surroundings. Throughout the book, Shiro also puts a large emphasis on sustainability, expounding upon the idea that using locally found ingredients is often the cheapest, freshest, and consequently the best. Shiro embraces ingenuity and resourcefulness, asking fishermen in the Sound for their leftover buckets of ikura, or salmon roe, which was being thrown out or used as fish bait, and saving salmon skins to be used for his popular salmon skin salad. Shiro passes this knowledge on to his staff, teaching and mentoring future sushi chefs on the art of preparing sushi while also letting them see how to successfully run a restaurant, despite razor-thin profit margins.

The recipes themselves are surprising in their simplicity. Familiar dishes in Japanese cuisine, such as nanbanzuke (pickled fish) and manila clam soup appear in his book, but also accompany original dishes, such as Poke Belltown and Salmon Skin Salad. Devoid of complicated directions, most of his recipes have less than 10 steps, and are accompanied by photographs, helpful tips and easy to follow step-by-step illustrations. Bringing together simplicity with surprising frugality, you will find Shiro’s dishes and stories familiar, accessible an inspiring.

“Shiro” is a book that celebrates the American Dream coming true for a Japanese man who has ultimately helped redefine and expand the dining experience of sushi here in the U.S. Beyond that, it’s his personal story of how he grew to become Seattle’s most beloved sushi chef, and one that will move and inspire you.

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