Simon Phillips - Yorkshire's sushi man
PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:16 20 February 2013
Sushi for Christmas? Jo Haywood discovers why this is not as fishy as it sounds<br/>Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Youve opened all your presents (more socks hurrah!), the Queen has made her speech, youve broken yet another nutcracker on those blasted brazils and now its time for dad to carve the turkey sushi rolls.
Hang on a minute. Turkey sushi rolls? Surely not. Next youll be telling me youre having Yorkshire pudding and roast beef sushi for Sunday lunch.
Well, far-fetched as they might sound, both are now very much on the menu, thanks to the ingenious endeavours of Leeds sushi aficionado Simon Phillips. Hes not Japanese (the names a bit of a giveaway) and doesnt feel honour-bound to follow traditional recipes so, for him, no ingredients are off the table.
People get so hung up on the idea of raw fish, he said. This false preconception puts a lot of them off before theyve even begun. But sushi is not just about raw fish. In fact, it doesnt have to be about raw fish at all. You can use just about anything you like Whitby crab, sausages, asparagus, anything. Ive used Yorkshire pudding to great effect and have made delicious Christmas sushi rolls with turkey and cranberry. Nothing is off limits.
Simon has been enrapt by sushi for 15 years after first coming across it in the South of France in 1995. He decided to give it a go himself when he got home and it soon became an all-encompassing passion.
As his skills improved, he began to get an increasing number of requests from family and friends for him to whip up a few Japanese-inspired goodies for parties and events. In turn, this led to him ditching his job in vehicle tracking (not a huge sacrifice if the truth be told) so his hobby could become his career.
At the time, however, Yorkshire wasnt quite ready for sushi, yakitori, tempura and sake.
I didnt have the confidence to open my own sushi bar, said Simon. So instead I offered a corporate service and opened a small takeaway deli in north Leeds. The market was pretty slow moving though and, while sushi was a complete smash in London, people here in the north just didnt seem to take to it.
So he decided to go back to the drawing board. He realised that if he really wanted to introduce sushi to Yorkshire, he would have to inject a little Yorkshire into his sushi.
The key for me was when I realised I had to make my sushi accessible to everyone, he explained. I am not Japanese so I could easily break with convention and use quality ingredients from around Yorkshire. When I started showing people that they could have virtually all their favourite foods in sushi form, things really started to turn around.
As well as catering for corporate events, weddings and private parties, Simon has now decided to branch out further with courses and demonstrations at Swinton Park in Masham.
My courses and demonstrations are not necessarily about teaching people to make their own sushi, he said. Its more about learning to appreciate sushi and to eat in a different way. Its the antithesis of Yorkshire eating. You have to pace yourself with sushi and not pile your plate high. Each roll is made to order for you to savour, so its a gradual flow of food rather than a huge plateful.
Its a bit like tapas in that way. Its all about fresh produce you can see how fresh it is because its made right in front of you.
Simon claims to be a shy man, although he hides it with great aplomb and feels very much at home in his new teaching role, sharing his passion with a wider, more appreciative audience.
I would eventually like to be known as Yorkshires sushi man, he said. But I want my business to remain small so I can maintain the quality and my hands-on approach. I suppose, in a way, I want to be my own brand.
So, hes gradually winning over the sushi sceptics here, but what sort of reaction does he think his Yorkshire-sushi fusion would get in Japan?
I have made sushi for a Japanese friend and she said it was better than hers, said Simon. But I think most Japanese people wouldnt understand what Im doing. My sushi comes from a rich heritage, but its not Japanese. This is very much Yorkshire sushi.
Sushi actually means vinegared rice and has nothing to do with raw fish (although most people still immediately associate it with seafood so rare it tries to swim off your plate).
It is most commonly linked with Japan, but it actually began in China in the fourth century. There was no refrigeration at the time, so fish had to be preserved by fermentation.
Sushi was the first fast food. At the beginning of the 19th century, Edo (now Tokyo) was peppered with mobile food stalls serving nigiri-zushi (small portions of rice adorned with fine slices of fresh fish) for people to grab and eat on the go.
You need short-grain, sweet rice for successful sushi. It has to be cooled and mixed with rice vinegar, sugar and salt to give it its unique flavour.
The seaweed (nori) used to make sushi rolls is toasted and comes in square sheets. It is highly nutritious, containing protein, minerals and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, niacin and C.
The whole sushi experience wouldnt be complete without a quality soy sauce for dipping. This is made from fermented soybeans, which are high in protein, magnesium, potassium and iron. There are now wheat-free and light (less salty) versions available.