The Weekly Eater


Walter Rhee slices a fillet of izumi dai, or snapper, before pressing and shaping the tongue-sized piece of fish to rice to form the perfect piece of nigiri sushi.

Make and eat your
culinary creations
at UH class

Restaurants face a lot of competition these days, and if you think that competition is restricted to other restaurants, well, you'd better think twice about going for that MBA.

Restaurants -- like newspapers, theaters and cinema -- are all about entertainment, and we all vie for the same dollar. Twenty-five dollars spent on a film, popcorn and sodas in one evening add up to $25 not spent on "The Magic Flute" or at a sushi bar.

At least the best restaurants didn't have to compete with their own clientele before. Thanks to culinary journalism, Food TV and food festivals, consumers have been empowered to cook alongside master chefs and, though lacking the pro equipment, nevertheless picking up enough skills to reproduce most of their favorite dishes at home.

And the assault continues with all those cooking classes out there, where anyone can learn a few tricks and, for the price of instruction, go home with a full stomach, which is what drew me to The University of Hawaii Outreach College's nigiri sushi class ($48) at the JMD Educational Center. Instructor Walter Rhee urges all his students to "come hungry." That's an understatement.

RHEE'S A NEWBIE to our shores, having arrived four months ago. He first studied marine biology, then stumbled upon food science and deemed it better than marine biology. He eventually combined both loves as a chef-instructor at the University of Illinois. He's thus able to offer insight into the science of flavors, as well as provide tips on how to avoid food poisoning and roundworms, while allowing us to taste firsthand the merits of mirin vs. sugar, dashi vs. soy sauce, and powdered wasabi vs. mild and hot wasabi out of a tube. At a restaurant, you're at the mercy of the chef's taste.

We waited patiently while Rhee folded a piece of paper towel, resulting in a crude model of a tongue that he used to illustrate how our tastebuds experience flavors. The perfect size sashimi for nigiri sushi, he says, is the size of the tongue. Upon tasting the sushi, the fish side goes down onto the tongue to "fire up the tastebuds," so he urged us all to study our tongues in a mirror.

But what came first was the egg, by which all sushi bars are judged. The perfectly cooked tamago represents patience and skill in getting it to the perfect sweetness, a uniform yellow and in tight folds as the liquid is slowly cooked and folded over and over in the sauté pan.

THEN CAME THE FISH. A lot of it. Rhee showed us how to place the fish in our left palm, just between the heart and life lines. The palm, he reasons, was made to create the perfect size and shape of sushi. From there, we dipped our right hands into cold water and set about shaping the cooked, vinegared rice into a bite-size mound. All turned out to be jumbo sized. "Boy, you guys are hungry!" Rhee said, ordering us to halve those proportions. We then placed rice to fish, turned the mass over and pressed the sides, then the top, to a perfect finger-controlled curve. Voila! We had sushi.

Sorry, I meant to take a picture of some of my finished pieces, but with my hands covered in rice and fish residue, I wasn't about to touch my camera, and we weren't exactly saving the pieces for one big end-of-class meal. It was roll, press and EAT all the way. From time to time Rhee would ask if we had any questions, only to find our mouths full of rice, rendering us unable to speak.

This is what I had: one piece snapper, two pieces salmon, one piece akami (lean red) ahi, one piece chutoro (marbled belly) ahi, one piece seared ahi, two pieces hamachi, one piece tamago, one piece surimi, one piece tako, one piece saba (mackerel), one piece clam, one piece broiled unagi (freshwater eel).

That's a pretty good dinner, and how could I complain -- I made it myself.

Rhee returns next Wednesday with a 6:30 to 9 p.m. noncredit class in making dim sum at JMD Educational Center, 99-1269 Iwaena St. in Halawa. The cost is $45. Show up hungry!

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to

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