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Exclusive interview with Chef Masaki, a Washoku (Japanese cuisine) master who taught 30,000 students over 50 years (2 of 2)
Jul 25, 2023
Team TREHA® @trehalose_sensei
This blog post is the second half of our interview with Chef Masaki, a Washoku master with 50 years of experience and a teacher to more than 30,000 students.
  • Exploring the Cornerstones of Washoku Cuisine: Dashi and Umami

  • Learning How to "Pull" Dashi Out of Ingredients

  • TREHA® is an Umami Booster

In this blog, we touch on diverse topics about Japanese food cultures, practices together with the culinary secret, TREHA®, and its important role in the Japanese food industry. We hope our blog helps you obtain in-depth knowledge of the secrets and science behind Japanese cuisine, shared from our kitchen, to yours.
Click here for the first half of the interview.

Continuing Chef Masaki’s fascinating story on his culinary journey, we delve deeper into his insights on dashi (Japanese soup stock). Chef Masaki is a long-term TREHA® user who firmly believes in "home cooking" as the foundation of food culture. His expertise and passion have led him to advise Japanese food manufacturers and industrial-sized delicatessens on product concepts and recipe development, increasing the number of global fans of Japanese cuisine.

The first interview was conducted in 2006, with an additional session in the fall of 2022.

Washoku’s Quintessential Factors: Dashi, Umami, and TREHA®

Chef Masaki: Japanese cuisine values crafting and paring peak freshness of the seasonal ingredients referred to as “Shun (旬, in season)” or “Deaimono (出会いもの, encounter with the seasonal items).” Chefs try to bring out the best seasonal flavor from the fresh ingredients when creating their dishes.

Team TREHA®: Japan’s four distinct seasons are a product of the unique climate and temperature changes due to its geographic features. Thus, nature, a source of seasonal produce, has been respected since ancient times, and embedded in Japanese food culture.

(Please refer to our past article "Shinto Religion and Japanese Cuisine (Washoku)".)

Chef Masaki: Understanding "dashi” (Japanese soup stock) is one of the basics of Japanese cuisine, as it is a stake in many dishes. Signature ingredients are bonito flakes (with the umami component being inosinic acid) , kombu seaweed (glutamic acid), shiitake mushrooms (guanylic acid), and shellfish (inosinic acid). Bonito flakes and kombu seaweed are essential for making clear soup, a pillar of Japanese cuisine.

Before the pandemic, some tours from Australia featured my cooking class in their itineraries. I taught 40 Australian tourists each year. When making dashi (soup stock), the most popular activity, non-Japanese students were fascinated by how the umami is enhanced with just two ingredients: bonito flakes and kombu seaweed.

Dashi Making is Delicate Work Requiring Precision

In Japanese cuisine, the act of making dashi (soup stock) is called "dashi wo hiku" (出汁を引く), which translates to "pulling dashi." The expression is associated with gently extracting flavors from ingredients into the water to create dashi as a flavorful broth.

Making dashi is complex and challenging for anyone, including the Japanese. Each preparation step requires close attention to the details: evaluating the quality of the ingredients, adjusting temperature, timing to remove the kombu, and timing to add and strain the bonito flakes. Especially for those who live outside of Japan, choosing water suited for dashi making is especially important because mineral content significantly affects the flavor.

(Please refer to our past article, “Dashi Soup Stock – the Foundation of Japanese Cuisine”.)

TREHA®: Enhancing Umami in Japanese Cuisine

Chef Masaki: I have evaluated the dashi soup stock with TREHA® or without TREHA® and confirmed that the soup with TREHA® exhibited a richer umami and well-rounded flavor profile. TREHA® plays a crucial role in creating quality dashi soup stock.

Chef Masaki: TREHA® also helps enhance the flavors of other dishes like "nimono (煮物)”, a simmered dish in dashi soup stock. Adding TREHA® makes it easier to season the ingredients while bringing out their unique flavor evenly. When simmering fish, TREHA® reduces the fishy smell and makes the fish tender.

As I said earlier, I actively use TREHA® for my "Osechi-ryori (おせち料理)” every year. For instance, TREHA® helps me make flavorful dumplings (nerimono) made of minced seafood such as oysters and steamed shrimp while maintaining the freshness of raw materials. I often sprinkle TREHA® directly onto uncooked peeled shrimp or meat. When making seafood marinades, I encourage this method. Let the ingredients sit for 10 minutes and see how TREHA® can enhance the flavor and freshness.

Japanese New Year's festive food, Osechi-ryori
Japanese New Year's festive food, Osechi-ryori

Chef Masaki: I also find that TREHA® goes well with Japanese fermented seasonings. For example, use TREHA® in koji-marinated sea bream, vinegared mackerel (shime saba), and miso-pickled Spanish mackerel to add depth to the flavor.

There are similar ingredients in Europe, but the taste may vary depending on where they are produced. As I mentioned earlier, please try to use TREHA® effectively in your cooking. This will allow you to discover the unique qualities of the ingredients and appreciate them in a new way. I encourage you to experiment with TREHA® not only in Japanese cuisine but in dishes from your own country.

Team TREHA®: Thank you very much for your time today.

Chef Nobuaki Masaki
Chef Nobuaki Masaki

Editor's Note:
We revisited Chef Masaki for an additional interview after more than 15 years after our first session, and to our amazement, he looks the same as he did 15 years ago. We were impressed with how he has maintained his youthful appearance and passion for food.
"I have thought about retiring if I ever feel a little reluctant to teach a class in the morning, but so far, that has not been the case!"
Chef Masaki's words reflect his enthusiasm, which resonated deeply with us.

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You might also be interested in:

Chef Masaki's Japanese cooking recepies:

  • Niku-jaga (肉じゃが, Japanese meat and potato stew)

  • Sekihan (赤飯, festive red rice)

  • Tsumire (つみれ, minced fishballs)

  • Hambāgu (ハンバーグ, Hamburg steak)