By Autumn Widdoes
Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer is the remarkable memoir of sushi chef and legend Shiro Kashiba. The book opens at the peak of the author’s childhood in post-World War II Japan as Kashiba recalls his initial fascination with American culture. The memoir follows Kashiba as he makes his way to North America bearing his culinary traditions and a career dedicated to the Japanese art of sushi.
Kashiba began his career in Japan as a young sushi chef on the Ginza working under chef Jiro Ono (pronounced a National Living Treasure by the Japanese Government). Kashiba left Japan to pursue the American dream of owning a restaurant. At the time he was one of a handful of individuals to bring sushi to America and contributed greatly to the shift in the American palette. Kashiba discusses the consumer demographic which only a generation ago avoided raw fish, and now worries about the direction in which American fusion sushi has gone.
Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer embodies sushi within the context of American social and historical change resulting from the 1960’s to the present day: the struggle define life in America as a Japanese person, the history of Japanese restaurants in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, and his concern for the environment, especially the degradation of the natural world due to modernization and population growth in the Pacific Northwest. Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer delicately points the reader toward the warmth and abundance he received in Seattle after leaving Japan.
Rather than something to mindlessly consume, when prepared by a skilled chef sushi becomes a work of art. Subtlety and nuance are highly valued in Japanese culture as seen in Japan’s traditional arts, language, and in this instance, cuisine. The subliminal is often the subject of a deftly circuitous discussion or demonstration.
As a master chef for over 40 years, Kashiba is exceptionally knowledgeable about fish and seafood, viewed as the “granddaddy” if not the King of the Northwest sushi scene. His memoir is full of aged wisdom including the art of sushi preparation, his ability to locate fresh, local ingredients, his love for the food he prepares for his customers, and the notion that the sushi chef is, above all else, a performer.
Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer is more than a historical account and culinary memoir. The sushi lovers guide offers hearty anecdotes and insight on individual meal preparation and procurement. Each recipe is accompanied with photography taken of Kashiba throughout his life including beautiful alpine scenes and portraits in both Japan and the Pacific Northwest. Artist Rio Kashiba (also the author’s wife), complements the book design with Japanese calligraphy, or Shodo.
In addition to adding “author” to his checklist, Kashiba is a teacher and the successful owner of Shiro’s Sushi restaurant in Seattle, Washington and the memoir offers detailed insight and advice on running a reputable sushi counter or restaurant. Published in Seattle by Chin Music Press, a small press publisher focusing on Japanese translation, Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer is a noteworthy cultural and culinary memoir certain to please fans of Shiro Kashiba as well as those interested in Japanese food and culture for years to come.
Autumn Widdoes lives in Okinawa, Japan where she teaches English to Japanese high school students. Originally from Florida, she has lived in New York City, London, Germany and Vietnam and has held a variety of jobs while maintaining her passion for theater, film and books. She attended NYU for Performance Studies. Autumn writes about her experiences in Japan at www.eigoinnihon.blogspot.com