Posted by: michellelowrey | June 24, 2009

All Hail Chef Taro Arai

My friend Susie and I really dig sushi….DIG it! In fact, whenever we get together for lunch, we don’t even discuss where we will be meeting each other any more, we just need to know when to show up, because the answer is always the same…..Mikuni!! If you live in the Sacramento region, this is “the place to be” if you want great sushi. Granted, there are a lot of great sushi joints in this town, but Mikuni is the most well known to all of us that call this area home.

So on this gorgeous Monday, Susie and I have come here for a special purpose. We’re here because we want to watch the great sushi chef Taro Arai give Bob Blumer, from the show Glutton for Punishment, some sushi making tips, and The Food Network was there filming the entire event. For those that don’t know, the show Glutton for Punishment puts Bob through a different series of food-related challenges where he is given five days to become proficient enough in the episode’s featured specialty. His newly learned skills are then put to the test by matching him up with champions and experts in the field. He has competed in oyster shuck-off’s, grape stomping, watermelon spitting, and even haggis hurling, just to name a few.

So Bob is learning the fine art of sushi making from chef Taro Arai, because on Thursday the two will be competing in the Sushi Master’s Competition in San Diego, sponsored by The California Rice Association. Taro Arai was born in Japan and saved all his money from a paper route that he had, so that he could come to America….and at the age of sixteen, he and his family did just that. From those early beginnings, his family opened the first Mikuni Restaurant in Fair Oaks, and over twenty years later, and many other restaurants throughout the area, the rest is sushi history.

Susie and I have a great view of all the action behind the bar, and are having a great time. Okay, here is where it gets fun….and the reason that I am now and forever forward a huge fan of Taro Arai. I see him standing to the side, and I ask him if I can get a picture with him. What he said next, made me love him forever. After I ask him for a picture, he smiles from ear to ear and says, “I’d be happy to, but don’t you want a picture with Bob Blumer? He’s the famous one, I just make sushi.” Now, what I say to him, is that yes, “I would love a picture with Bob too”, but what I am thinking is, “Just a sushi maker, my ass! Dude, you are the famous one! So not only is Taro the nicest guy around….he’s also incredibly funny, down-to-earth….and humble!

So this little exchange has got me thinking….. Just when exactly, did so many great chefs become elevated into “rock star status?” I know I’m not alone in this, as it seems that people that love food….I mean, really love and respect what goes in to making amazing food, tend to put chefs in the same category as major celebrities. Some fellow foodies that I know would probably knock over Brad Pitt, just to get to Eric Ripert, or Mario Batali. And why shouldn’t they be given this status? I mean the amount of work and love that these talented people put into each dish, solely for another persons pleasure, is pretty darn cool. Great chefs catapult food into an otherwordly art form, and for that they deserve enormous respect.
So rock on chef Taro Arai, keep doing what you are doing, and good luck tomorrow at the Sushi Masters Competition…….and oh yeah, good luck to that Bob Blumer guy too….

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