Sushi finds new fans in France

Published on
December 28, 2016

The first French open sushi competition last month gathered 12 top chefs from all over the country to pit their skills against each other and demonstrate their abilities.

Chefs were asked to produce three different sushi preparations and were judged on both their technical skill and the taste of their creations by a jury.

Competition organizer Anne-Catherine Gillet explained that the aim of the contest was to promote the art and consumption of sushi and to celebrate responsible fishing practices and organic seafood.

“It is also testament to the increasing interest in this food in France,” Gillet said. “Over the past six years, sushi consumption has increased rapidly, and the French now eat more sushi per person than in any other European country.”

A recent study found that 63 percent of French people have tried sushi at least once, whilst 40 percent eat it on a regular basis and 30 percent of young people between 20 and 34 years of age enjoy sushi at least once per month. Sushi sits in second place (behind pizza) in terms of popularity as a home delivery meal, with a 26 percent share of the market. On average, consumers expect to pay EUR 16 (USD 16.75) per person for a sushi meal.

France now has more than 2,500 Japanese restaurants and sushi bars, 40 percent of which are chains, and 21 Japanese sushi chefs with at least 1 Michelin star. It is estimated that each restaurant uses between 10 and 30 kg of fish per day, which means that up to 75 tons per day is eaten in this way.

“Sushi is a healthy and practical food that is found in an ever-increasing range of catering outlets. It is equally at home in full service restaurants as in self-service and kiosk outlets, as well as in take-away format in supermarkets and fishmongers. Because of this, the competition has been welcomed by the whole industry,” said Gillet.

The word sushi generally refers to any one of a number of dishes prepared with vinegared sushi rice. Sashimi refers to slices of seafood, usually raw, draped over a garnish. Both sushi and sashimi rely on the highest quality fresh ingredients. Common sashimi seafood includes salmon, squid, whale, sea urchin, scallops, shrimp, tuna, mackerel, horse mackerel, octopus, puffer fish, and yellowtail.

Gillard explained that because the sushi industry is attracting a new generation to seafood, it is important to highlight the need for it to be sustainable.

Amongst the sponsors she worked with to bring the competition together were Pavillon France, a whole-chain industry network dedicated to the production and promotion of responsible and sustainable fishery products sold under a brand of the same name; Bord Bia, promoting organic Irish salmon; Reynaud, who pioneered organic gamba production in Madagascar and whose OSO brand also guarantees responsible fishing standards and MSC-certified wild seafood; and Australian company Clean Seas, Australia’s only commercial producer of Hiramasa yellowtail kingfish (seriola lalandi).

“We were delighted to sponsor the competition,” Cleanseas’ Stefan Baumann said. “Our premium-grade Hiramasa kingfish is highly sought after in the fast-growing European sushi market, where it is known as the best all-round yellowtail option on the market. This fish, which also benefits from Friend of the Sea certification, is regarded in Japan as the highest value of the yellowtail (Hamachi) species, and the most prized white fish for sashimi, so it’s great to see its reputation spread to Europe.”

The art of sushi has evolved over time, and although there are hundreds of different varieties in Japan, the favorite sushi enjoyed in France is maki, chirashi and California sushi. According to Gillard, the market is still developing and needs to continue to do so in order to retain customers and attract new ones.

Fusion cuisine is currently spearheading Japanese cuisine in France and sushi restaurants are diversifying their offerings by incorporating new ingredients into their menus, such as sushi with bresaola and foie gras. From Hawaii, the French have adopted and adapted the poke (pronounced poh-kay) bowl, to include marinated, sweetened fish – particularly sashimi grade tuna – served with aromatic herbs and vegetables, fresh avocado, mango and sticky rice. Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Japanese techniques and Peruvian ingredients is also popular.

The overall winner of the open sushi competition 2016 was Chef Wagner Spadacio from Luxe Event, Monte Carlo, who also took home the OSO prize for the best Edomae plate. Second prize went to Chef Xiaojin Zhao of Himiko in Saint Etienne, who also won the Pavillon France award for the most beautiful Creative plate. Chef Zi'an Wang from Sushikai in Beaune came third.

“We are very grateful to our partners and sponsors for their commitment to the competition, and especially to the chefs who created such beautiful displays of sushi. We look forward to watching their careers and to seeing them here in the future,” Gillard said.

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