The Science of Sushi
Featuring Dr. Ole Mouritsen and Morihiro Onodera
April 23, 2014
To kick off our 2014 public lecture series, Dr. Ole Mouritsen joined Chef Morihiro Onodera to satisfy our craving for sushi-related science. The duo explained everything from sushi’s early history to the starchy science of sushi rice. Watch the entire lecture or check out some of the shorter highlights below.
Ole Mouritsen on the history of sushi
“The history of sushi is really the history of preservation of food. . . . Throughout Asia, in particular in China and later in Japan, people discovered that you can ferment fish – that is, you can preserve fish – by taking fresh fish and putting it in layers of cooked rice. . . . After some time the fish changes texture, it changes taste, it changes odor, but it’s still edible and it’s nutritious. And maybe after half a year you could then pull out the fish and eat the fish. That is the original sushi.”
Ole Mouritsen on the science of rice
“If you look inside the rice, you have little [starch] granules that are only three to eight microns, or three t0 eight thousandths of a millimeter, big. . . . When you cook the rice, you add some water and the water is absorbed by the rice and [the granules] swell. And the real secret behind the sushi rice is that when they swell, these little grains are not supposed to break.”
Morihiro Onodera on examining the quality of sushi rice
“First what I do is I soak uncooked rice in water. . . . Sometime after 20 minutes it will start to break. . . . I take a sample to check to see if there are any cracks. . . . With good rice, which has less cracks or breaks, you’re able to feel the texture of each of the grains in your mouth, whereas with the lower quality rice you’re just going to get the stickiness [from the starch].”
Chef Morihiro Onodera trained as a sushi chef in Tokyo, and at seminal Los Angeles restaurants including Katsu, R-23, Matsuhisa, and Takao as well as Hatsuhana in NY. By the time he opened his first restaurant, Mori Sushi in Los Angeles, he was preparing many of the same handmade ingredients, harvesting his own locally grown rice and creating handmade pottery to be used in the restaurant. After selling Mori Sushi in 2011, Mori began creating handmade pottery for several Michelin Guide restaurants in Los Angeles and established a partnership with rice farmer, Ichiro Tamaki. Tamaki farms in Uruguay will harvest its first crop in May of 2013 and will be available for distribution world-wide.
- What hooked you on cooking?
- The desire to want to eat and taste delicious food.
- The coolest example of science in your food?
- My basic approach to cooking is to think about the natural ingredients and the climate (seasons) of its origin, ingredients that are kind to the body and to earth—a very simple-minded attempt with natural science at its core.
- The food you find most fascinating?
- I’m always seeking the true flavor of a given ingredient—that’s what fascinates me.
- What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
- Natural science.
- Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
- Konbu and natural salt.
- How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?
- It will be interesting to see how the true flavors of ingredients change over time—how natural science will affect that change. Simultaneously, I will continue my studies in discovering and knowing what’s kind for the human body and our earth.
- One kitchen tool you could not live without?
- Rice cooker, including donabe (Japanese clay pot).
- Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
- Fresh local vegetables, miso, umeboshi (pickled plum), homemade yuzu kosho (pepper), and leftover cooked brown rice. Outside of the fridge: dry goods, salted bran (used for pickling), rice, oil (sesame and olive), salt, konbu.
- Your all-time favorite ingredient?
- Favorite cookbook?
- Book series by Rosanjin (Kitaoji Rosanjin, Japanese artist and epicure).
- Your standard breakfast?
- Black tea (straight). Seasonal, local fruits. Bread or hot rice cereal. Sometimes eggs (steamed) cooked with sautéed spinach.
The 2014 UCLA Science & Food public lecture series is here!
General admission tickets are available for $25 from the UCLA Central Ticket Office (CTO) . Tickets can be purchased from the UCLA CTO over the phone or in person and will not include additional fees or surcharges. The UCLA CTO is located on-campus and is open Monday–Friday, 10am –4pm. A UCLA CTO representative can be reached during these hours at 310-825-2101. Tickets can also be purchased online from Ticketmaster for $25 plus additional fees. A limited number of $5 student tickets are available to current UCLA students. These must be purchased in person at the UCLA CTO with a valid Bruin Card.
The Science of Sushi
Dr. Ole Mouritsen & Chef Morihiro Onodera
Wednesday April 23, 2014 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA
In this lecture, Dr. Ole Mouritsen will illuminate the science underlying sashimi, nori, sushi rice, umami, and more. He will be joined by Chef Morihiro Onodera who will share his approach to sushi as well as an inside look into his partnership with a rice farm in Uruguay.
How We Taste
Dr. Dana Small, Chef Wylie Dufresne, & Peter Meehan
Wednesday May 14, 2014 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA
In this lecture, we will explore how we taste from the perspectives of a scientist, a chef, and a food writer. Dr. Dana Small will describe how our brains respond to flavors, and shed light on the link to obesity. She will be joined by Chef Wylie Dufresne who will present his creative approach to generating surprising food flavors and textures. Peter Meehan will share his experiences with food and taste and how they have shaped his writing, both as a cookbook author and former writer for The New York Times.
Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie)
Dave Arnold & Chef Lena Kwak
Sunday June 1, 2014 at 2:30pm
Ackerman Grand Ballroom, UCLA
At this event, Dave Arnold will discuss his latest culinary innovations and the role of creativity in food. He will be joined by Chef Lena Kwak who will share her process of invention, research, and discovery in the kitchen. Also at this event, students of the Science & Food course will present the results of their apple pie projects, including their freshly baked pies in a large-scale pie tasting. The event will close with an Iron-Chef style discussion of the winning pies featuring the keynote speakers and renowned judges from the Los Angeles community.