‘No Sushi’ is part autobiography, part cookbook, written by chef restaurateur and winner of Masterfchef 2012, Andrew Kojima. The title is a reference to the (gradually eroding) British perception of Japanese food being all about sushi, the topic of a conversation Koj had with his Japanese father shortly before he died. It’s also the name of Koj’s pre-restaurant pop-up in Cirencester.
I have known Koj for over a decade – we connected as fellow food bloggers with a love of cooking and eating – so I was delighted to watch him compete in Masterchef 2012, reaching the finals helped to motivate a mid-life change in career from finance to food.
The first 80 pages of No Sushi are a themed autobiography, taking us on a journey through those aspects of Koj’s life that most informed his love of food and cooking, and in particular, how he came to run his own restaurant in Cheltenham. Koj took an unconventional path to becoming a chef, but points out that he would not have the family and life he so cherishes, had he followed his passion for food as a young man. The insight into his life is a pleasure to read.
The last section of the biographical chapters takes us through the creation and launch of Koj Cheltenham, and introduces us to key people, from staff to specialist food and drink suppliers, all of whom have contributed to the restaurant’s success.
Spicy Peanut Miso Aubergine (taken during my visit to Koj Cheltenham)
The cookery book proper starts on page 88 with the recipes divided into chapters on Cocktails, Appetisers, Buns, Grazing, Side Dishes and Desserts. The full recipe list is given here but I miss a classic index that would help me to find recipes by key ingredients. Additionally, having the recipe list in the middle of the book rather than at the start or end is definitely less user-friendly.
Most recipes are for small simple dishes that can be combined into a small plates sharing style of meal, much like diners enjoy at Koj Cheltenham.
I’m delighted to see personal favourites from our visit to the restaurant – grilled leeks with white miso, crispy shiitake mushroom with tonkatsu mayo, the pork belly bun and the panko cauliflower bun, okonomiyaki, spicy peanut miso aubergine, and sticky toffee pudding with miso butterscotch.
Of course, there are specialist ingredients needed for some recipes, which you may not find in your local supermarket – though many more are stocking more Japanese basics these days as the cuisine grows in popularity with home cooks. But you will be able to order the rest online via specialist retailers who deliver across the UK.
Each recipe has a full page photograph. These are helpful in visualising the dish but are minimally styled, each one photographed, on its own on the restaurant’s plates and dishes, atop one of the restaurant’s tables; this makes them feel a little dark and stark for a recipe book but on the other hand, they are exactly what customers of the restaurant will recognise.
In terms of instructions, these can be a little vague for some recipes. For the grilled leeks, the instructions are to simmer or steam (or indeed sous vide) the leeks but no indication is given of timings or what texture you are looking to achieve. Should they be soft all the way through, or still a little firm because the grilling will cook them further? The second step, ‘grill them to deliberately burn the flat side‘, gives little help on what kind of pan or level of heat, or an approximate duration. For the panko cauliflower (a component in one of the bao buns), the full instruction on creating a tempura batter is to ‘make a tempura batter using dashi stock to give it more umami‘, with no information at all on ratio of flour to liquid, nor the ideal consistency for tempura batter. If you’re an accomplished chef, these recipes are useful for inspiration, but if you’re new to cooking you may struggle to interpret the somewhat minimal instructions.
On the other hand, the recipes for some dishes, such as the okonomiyaki and the sticky toffee pudding with white miso butterscotch sauce, are far more detailed, with precise amounts in the ingredients lists and more explicit instructions. I believe a beginner could follow these recipes easily to create a successful dish.
For me, the real joy of this book has been in reading the autobiographical chapters to gain more of an insight into Koj as both a person and a chef; and the story of his restaurant – how it came into being, and some of the facets of its success. The recipes are a wonderful snapshot of the restaurant’s food, a set of dishes that Koj evolved to reflect his desire to bring more knowledge and love of Japanese food to the UK.
Andrew Kojima’s No Sushi is published and available to order from Away With Media.