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Chef Murata holding Kombu (dried kelp)
One of the events of the month long Sydney International Food Festival was the World Chef Showcase held on the weekend of 10-11 October 2009. The festival comprised three concurrent events both days.  Program 6 - Japan, hosted by Simon Thomsen, had a lot to say about umami. Several international guests spoke about umami.

Kaiseki master, Yosishiro Murata from the famed Kikunoi restaurants in Kyoto and Tokyo, and ably assisted by Sydney’s own Tetsuya Wakada, spoke and demonstrated the importance of dashi – the Japanese style stock used to impart taste and flavour to many types of Japanese food.  Rather than the traditional ichiban dashi made with kombu and dried bonito, Chef Murata demonstrated how a umami rich broth can be made from combining kombu with pork, an ingredient more likely to be found in Australian kitchens than is the dried fish called bonito.  (See Chef Shingo Suzuki make dashi at the UMAMI – Exotic taste or world taste seminar on our EVENTS.) Chef Murata demonstrated the care and intricacy of Kaiseki cuisine and how to intensify the flavour of food without adding fat.  Chefs are often heard saying “fat is flavour” and while that is true, fat is also very high in kilojoules.  Chef Murata’s approach, and generally the Japanese approach, is low fat food that is equally or even more flavoursome as foods much higher in fat.  Another “trick” to intensify flavours of vegetables was to cook them in their own juice and he demonstrated with carrots and turnips.  Unfortunately the audience was not able to taste the results, but Tetsuya was able to attest that the carrots tastes more like carrots than carrots themselves!

Tetsuya discusses umami with
Chef Murata.
The second session of the morning Talk and Taste, moderated by Simon Thomsen, was dedicated to discussing and explaining umami was very popular and attracted a number of the other celebrity chefs, including Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong.

The first panellist was Kumiko Ninimoya, Director of the Umami Information Centre, who explained the science behind umami and the ubiquitous of umami.  Watch her presentation on umami from the UMAMI – Exotic taste or world taste on our EVENTS page.

The second panellist was ex-pat Aussie David Thompson of the Michelin-starred Nahm Thai restaurant in the Halkin hotel in London. Whilst admitting to not being too familiar with the term umami, after some research he recognised its contribution to Thai cuisine. The major contributor to umami in Thai cuisine was fish sauce, which is a soft taste and the vehicle by which other tastes are carried. Unlike salt which dissipates quickly umami is the long lingering savoury taste that becomes soft and “makes you drool”.  Umami has a rich, lingering meaty quality, but at the same time it is elusive and below the level of consciousness.

L-R Yosishiro Murata, Alexandre Broudas, David Thompson, Kumiko Ninoimiya.

The third speaker Alexandre Bourdas of the two Michelin-starred Sa Qua Na France, spoke in French which was translated by Festival Director, Joanna Savill, obviously a woman of many hidden talents.  Chef Bourdas was well equipped to talk about umami having spent three years at Michel Bras, Hokkaido, Japan.  He explained that although his Japanese colleagues tried to explain umami, he did not fully understand umami until he had spent a long time in Japan.  After time he came to understand that umami was the long lingering and mouth-watering taste that could be described as “mouthfulness”.  And, although umami is common to Japanese and French cuisine, the French do not put as much emphasis on highlighting umami as did the Japanese.

Read Peter Hawkins’ report in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age online 12 October 2009, Rosemary Ryan’s report in Hospitality, or the report by the Umami Information Centre.

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