In its annual mission to share the many applications of soy with the general public, the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival welcomed soy aficionados back to The Event Center at Saint Mary’s Cathedral June 30 in San Francisco. With expanded cooking demonstrations and activities, the eighth annual fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Foundation invited attendees to learn about the “joy of soy.”
“This year’s festival took a definite innovative leap. It was always a creative and fun festival, driven by the creative forces within our committee, but added attractions such as the Scavenger Hunt, Tofu Passport for artisan vendors, and expanded cooking demonstrations made the festival a lot more interactive and engaging,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation and festival chair. “We also had our greatest variety of vendors, including product donors, which added to the excitement.”
Some of the changes followed the closure of San Jose Tofu, a multigenerational traditional handmade tofu shop in San Jose’s Japantown, at the end of 2017.
“I was saddened by the news, naturally, as we’ve been a big advocate of San Jose Tofu, and wondered if we could carry on,” said Taguma. “But I knew if there was a will, there would be a way, so I asked Lindsey Yamamoto of our staff if we could do it, and she was game. Her inspired leadership really drove a lot of this year’s festival, including many of the new elements and general better overall organization.”
The event introduced a “Tofu Passport” to encourage attendees to learn more about the dozen artisan vendors present. “We’ve heard in the past that the traffic hasn’t been that great for some of our vendors, so this was just an opportunity to see more traffic to their booth,” said Yamamoto.
Attendees were given a passport card and asked to visit vendors to get stickers to fill in the nine spaces. Once filled, attendees could turn in their passports to be entered into an hourly drawing for prizes.
Among returning vendors, several new vendors promoted soy in unique ways. Tofutown North America presented their vegan snack sausages along with soy whip cream, both products of Germany. Donna Mott’s Ooh De Lolli popsicles featured a Miso Caramel popsicle stick made especially for the festival. Luana Ige returned as a vendor, but this year sold inari sushi instead of Hawaiian apparel and crafts. Liberation Foods sold barbecue smoked tofu. Longtime vendor Jade Chocolates created a miso caramel truffle for the event. Aside from edible vendors, attendees could also peruse apparel, crafts and art from new vendors such as P.M.B.Q., Tomoko Ceramics, Kotas Kreations, Goo Enterprise, Wear Now Do, Morita Arts and Hello Sushi Store.
Alongside the passport activity, Koji Hamada and Elaine Segura organized a scavenger hunt for the festival. The activity included 110 unique “missions” for attendees with various point values. The top five participants were awarded a prize. Segura said 34 teams of one to three people each answered trivia questions and shot video and photos to rack up points to win prizes such as plush toys, stationery from San-X, Sephora makeup and T-shirts from festival vendors Makimino and Sumo Fish.
“Examples of some of our favorite missions include: spell out soy with your team using your bodies, tell a stranger outside about the festival and give them a high five, write a pun / joke about soy and tofu, donate blood to help save a life,” Segura wrote in an e-mail interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly. Some missions took participants to Japantown to take photos of the Peace Plaza or finding a street sign with both English and Japanese.
“We had participants say that the scavenger hunt was a lot of fun and that the festival was super organized,” Segura said. “They liked having something to compete for and have sort of an excuse to do activities or go out and see things they probably wouldn’t otherwise do or see. It was a great way for them to really engage with the festival’s offerings.”
Cooking Up Some Examples
The festival offered five guest cooking demonstrations ranging from an easy-to-make edamame hummus to a savory peanut butter misoyaki chicken wing.
Scott Davis, also known as the Culinary Dude, said his simple recipes and cooking classes are designed to help children get over their fears of cooking.
He made the Edamame Hummus seasoned with cumin and garlic to retain a fusion of traditional Mediterranean flavor as well. “I can make hummus out of black beans, I can make hummus out of pinto beans, I can make them out of any beans, combine with any beans,” he said. “Edamame is a refreshing thing, and I just kind of experimented a little bit.”
Japantown-raised chef Wade Tamura cooked Peanut Butter Misoyaki Chicken Wings, which he called a “party in your mouth.” Tamura told the Nichi Bei Weekly he wanted to incorporate miso while taking into account the hot weather to create something just right for the summer weather.
Husband-and-wife chef duo Shane Stanbridge and Marie Chia presented a unique use of Hodo Foods product by serving crisp yuba chips topped with a tofu chorizo, pickled mustard seeds and herbs. Together, known as S+M Vegan, Stanbridge said they develop unique applications of soy products.
Eri Combs, a baking instructor at Kaori’s Kitchen, presented Tofu Mochi Donuts. Combs, a fan of Mister Donut and the mochi doughnut fad, said she experimented to see how she could make her own doughnut recipe. “I tried using tofu and it turned out to be even more chewy as a doughnut. And so I thought, ‘oh I can do this,’” she said in Japanese.
Finally, Nichi Bei Weekly columnist Ryan Tatsumoto presented his soy milk custard. Tatsumoto, who flew in from Hawai‘i, could not do a live demonstration, explaining, “when you come 2,500 miles, it’s kinda hard to bring an induction cooker, pots and strainers and everything,” with him. He instead pantomimed the recipe and served up samples he prepared, which quickly disappeared.
And for Dessert…
Along with its new attractions, the annual Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition had four contestants vie for top honors among a panel of esteemed community and culinary expert judges. While Combs’ Berry Tofu Cheesecake and Jennifer Hasegawa’s Soy Cream Pan with Kinako Swirl were worthy contestants, they lost to second place and audience choice winner Akimi Furutani’s Tofu Big Wave (Edo Sweets) and first place winner Kim Guess’ Triple Tofu Black Forest Trifle.
Guess, a dietician by trade, said she tested out her recipe with co-workers, friends and her boyfriend to get the perfect consistency for her cake, bu was nonetheless surprised she had won. “I tried the other desserts and they were delicious, so I’m honored to have been chosen,” she said.
An Enjoyable Experience
“I love tofu,” said Corie Garcia, an attendee. Garcia, a vegetarian for the past 10 years, said she enjoyed the event and liked trying the various applications of tofu, such as Tatsumoto’s custard and S+M Vegan’s yuba pasta. “I’d come back, very cool event.”
“Attendance was the best that we’ve had in our three years at The Event Center,” Taguma said, noting the various other community events taking place that day, including the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, the Fillmore Jazz Festival and political rallies across the Bay Area.
Nevertheless, Taguma said this year’s festival may be the best one yet. “After three years at The Event Center, I think we finally figured out a winning formula.”
For more info about the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, visit www.soyandtofufest.org.