Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World where we provide you with all things watermelon and sushi. That is to say, we are all about mixing it up.
In keeping with the new direction of this blog, we are so HAPA to introduce you to Marisa Baggett, a real-life, celebrity sushi chef pictured on the left. Marisa currently resides in Memphis where you can take classes from her. Contact her at http://www.marisabaggett.com
Q: Marisa, how did a nice African American girl like you become a sushi chef?
A: As a fearless twenty-something year-old with a growing catering business, a great client asked if I could prepare sushi for his office dinner party. I accepted even though I knew nothing about sushi. The small Mississippi town I was in didn't even have a sushi bar for me to reference so I had to rely on books. I stuck with mostly vegetable and cooked seafood sushi for the party and it was a big hit! Word spread quickly that I was making sushi at my restaurant and I was sort of thrown into being a sushi chef. I wanted to learn more and eventually closed my business and ventured to the California Sushi Academy for better training.
Q: Have you ever been to Japan?
A: Not yet. But when I do, I want to make sure that I have plenty of time to eat and sight-see.
Q: What kind of reaction do you get from other sushi chefs--particularly, Japanese men?
A: I think because the idea of an African American woman being a sushi chef is so unfathomable to most, the first reaction I get is usually a nod and, "Oh, you're a sous chef." When I correct them, there is usually confusion, disbelief or occasionally laughter. Non-Japanese male sushi chefs usually have the biggest issue with me. For some reason, they tend to disregard my authenticity as a sushi chef without fully comprehending the irony. With Japanese sushi chefs, I am regarded quite differently. Though they may not embrace me as authentic, they appreciate my understanding of sushi bar culture and the philosophy behind how I create sushi.
Q: Why do you think sushi is so popular in America?
A: I like to think of sushi as a delicious, celebrity-driven misunderstanding. People eat it because celebrities have made it the trendy thing to do and then they stick with it because it is delicious. And then, there are people that eat it because they think it's healthy. Not that sushi can't be healthy, but most American-style sushi is not.
Q: What is the most important part of making good sushi?
A: I hold that sushi is a dish made with prepared sushi rice. So for me, the rice is the most important part next to technique. That's not to say that ingredients aren't important, because they are. But excellently prepared rice accounts for more of sushi's greatness than people tend to realize.
Q: My mother told me that sushi is not norimaki (rice rolled in nori) and norimaki is not sushi (rice molded atop two fingers). Do you think Americans care?
A: There is so much confusion about sushi. On one hand, nigirizushi is the recognized worldwide standard of sushi. But in America, sushi means maki. Americans have a tendency to take from other cultures and make it their own which is exactly what happened with makizushi. For me, this creates an interesting dialog in my head whenever I create sushi. Part of me says, "You're an African American (focus on American) female sushi chef so who cares if you go there", while the other part of me that understands why things are done certain ways kind of keeps me in check if I am going too far over the sushi edge.
Q: Speaking of sushi edges, can you make watermelon sushi?
A: Watermelons are lovely this time of year. Several weeks ago, I passed by a man roadside selling watermelons and pickled vegetables from the back of his pickup truck. In the South, we tend to pickle everything including watermelon rind. And seasoned pickled vegetables are not that farfetched for sushi use, so I've got some pickled watermelon rind in the works. We'll see how that translates into sushi!
Domo arrigato gozaimasu, Marisa-san. I can't wait to try some.
Here are photos of inarizushi (on the top) and norimaki (on the bottom) that my mother prepared. In order to identify which inarizushi contained white rice or brown rice, she also designed two color-coded paper flags. Oooh, she's just too clever! The norimaki contained ume, or pickled plum, and changed the rice to a pinkish color so I called it sakura, or cherry blossom, sushi. Now, who's clever?
On to some other Hip Hapa Homee news: A couple of days ago, I created a Watermelon Sushi Fan Page on Facebook. Please go there, and sign up. That page will be where I will post photos of talent submissions as well as other news about the film as we progress. If you have any topics about the Watermelon Sushi film you'd like to discuss, please let us know.
And, of course, we still have Hapa*Teez t-shirts for all our fans here: http//www.cafepress.com/hapateez
Please keep your emails and links coming in, you Hip Hapa Homeez, you. I hope to have an interview with another cross-cultural celebrity for you next week, so check us out then.
As always, I am...
Your Hip Hapa,