August 14, 2012 / 2:32 AM / in 7 years

World Chef: Sushi chef finds success in Australian country town

SYDNEY (Reuters) - When Masaaki Koyama opened his sushi shop in Geeveston, a small town in southern Tasmania that survives mainly on lumber and apple growing, he had to step outside to offer samples to locals to encourage them to try his hand-made sushi rolls.

Now, three years later, his name is so well known on Australia’s most southern island state that customers form snake-like, endless queues to buy his tasty delights.

Part of the success is the attraction of watching Koyama make some of the hundreds of rolls of sushi he prepares every day. He offers up to nine varieties of sushi, and miso soup laced with home grown vegetables and Inari (bean curd), stuffed with chopped beetroot, carrot and mushrooms, stir fried in sesame oil and mixed with sesame seeds and sushi rice.

Koyama spoke with Reuters about his business and how he made it a success.

Q: Was it risky setting up business so far from Hobart’s tourist trail, where locals may not be familiar with sushi?

A. “Yes, I was very nervous. It took me about six months to have the courage to go ahead and do it. After living in Tasmania for about a year I took a stall at ‘Taste of the Huon’ annual food festival and it went very well so I thought, ahh maybe it will be ok!”

Q: Who are your customers?

A: “In the first three years mainly locals and forestry workers, but now quite a lot of people travel down from Hobart (60 kilometers or 37 miles away) and tourists pop in when they’re passing through.”

Q: Your shop is in Geeveston, a small town. Were people there familiar with sushi?

A: “No, a lot of people had never tried it before. I just kept saying, ‘please try’. People were watching from outside, so I had to go out and ask them, would you like to try a piece of sushi. Some people said, ‘oh I don’t like it’. So it was interesting and fun for me.”

Q: I hear some of your customers are big burly Tasmanian forestry workers. Does that seem strange to maybe think, chain saw in one hand, sushi in the other?

A: “Yes at first, but now it’s pretty normal.”

Q: Where do you source your ingredients from?

A: “My ingredients are sourced mostly from local vegetable and fish shops and my veggie garden. I have lots of garlic at the moment and beetroot, spring onions, radish and some Japanese vegetables also. I like using veggies from the garden in my ingredients, but it’s very hard to look after a veggie garden and the shop. I begin work at 5 a.m. and finish at about 7 p.m. three days a week.”

Q: You’ve become a familiar name at the Farmers Market in Hobart on Sundays. How do you draw the crowds?

A: “Lots of kids love my sushi. Their most popular choice is my vegetable sushi rolls. Fresh salmon, yellow fin tuna, stripey trumpeter, prawn and avocado are also very popular amongst adults.

“I have long queues waiting for my sushi on Sundays. It’s not a straight line though, they queue in an angle to watch me hand roll the sushi. It’s lovely when the sun is shining.”

Q: Do you source your seafood in Tasmania?

A: “Yes, with the exception of prawns, the rest comes from Tasmania. When I can’t source yellow fin tuna in Tasmania I buy it across the water in Victoria.”

Q: You’ve clearly become a success. You’ve come from being nervous about opening your sushi business to enjoying entertaining long queues of customers waiting for your sushi rolls. What’s your winning formula?

A: “It’s very simple, I use only fresh ingredients and I love talking to the customers.”

Q: Do you have plans to grow your business and open around Tasmania.

A: “I’m very happy in my small shop in Geeveston making good quality sushi rolls.”

Masaaki Koyama’s Miso Soup

The secret to a good miso soup is the “dashi” base. Dashi can be made from kombu (kelp), dried bonito flakes, dried shiitake mushrooms. These are boiled up to produce a delicious stock.

Contemporary Japanese households will often just used dried bonito flakes or bonito fish stock powder. Masaaki uses a combination of any of the above bases for his miso soup.

Fill a pot with dashi stock and place over heat.

Add ingredients such as sliced local vegetables: onions, potatoes, carrots. Turn the heat up to high, and when it boils turn down the heat to medium.

Remove any scum on the surface of the soup as the vegetables cook. When all the vegetables are cooked through, turn the heat down low.

Soften an appropriate amount of miso - this depends on the volume of the stock and your preferences for strong or lighter flavor - in a ladle or strainer, using liquid from the stock, and gradually dissolve it into the stock, adjusting the taste.

It’s important to never boil the stock once you have dissolved the miso paste, as this will spoil the flavor.

After turning off the heat, add some wakame seaweed, which can be bought fresh or dried (soften in water as per package instructions). Masaaki likes to add a sprinkling of freshly-chopped Tasmanian spring onions.

Reporting by Pauline Askin, editing by Elaine Lies

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