Bringing the sea to your plate

Executive chef Cezar Takahashi with Mayra Vergne and Laurent Eudes.

Competition is certainly heating up for the entry dishes for the Ora King Salmon Awards.

A big thanks to Debbie and the team at The Rabbit Hole for the invite to not only try the entry dish, but to enjoy a superb five-course wine and food match degustation with stunning dishes produced by executive chef Cezar Takahasi and his highly talented team, matched perfectly with gorgeous Matawhero wines.

What a great night – amazingly crafted dishes, excellent service and a superb venue.

The elements of each dish and the matching wines were carefully explained before each course.

Most fascinating was the story told by Cezar on the origins of how the creation of his Ora King Salmon entry dish came about. Cezar’s dish was an exquisite work of art, showcasing his interpretation of the bottom of the sea, amazing colours, textures, balance and harmony.

Cezar has a wealth of experience born from his Japanese/Brazilian heritage. He is passionate about all aspects of food, from filleting whole fish (something he learnt from his Japanese grandfather), to combining the culinary techniques of Japan with the flavours and sweetness of his Brazilian heritage – known as Nikkei Fusion. His menu reflects his heritage, while at the same time he incorporates a strong hint of Kiwi cuisine from time spent in the Cook Islands working and living with Kiwis. His career spans 13 years, including several years as a Sushi Master. Cezar is passionate about delivering the perfect meal, both visually and gastronomically.

The entry dish, ‘Corina Kaiyo’, uses techniques that Cezar’s grandmother taught him many years ago. The salmon is cured using the kobujime technique, which is a way of curing salmon by wrapping it in konbu seaweed and salt. The konbu boosts the umami flavour in the fish, giving it a unique taste. The salmon is coloured with red cabbage juice to give it a Latin touch. The dish also uses the Japanese style of pickled cucumber called sunomono. The shallots have a Latin twist as well, poached in chilli and vanilla syrup.

Make sure you try this Ora King Salmon dish currently featured on the menu at The Rabbit Hole, or one of the many other interesting dishes.

Ora King salmon naturally cured in red cabbage, with green apple and fennel puree, poached shallots with dill oil, clams, Japanese pickled cucumber, salicornia seaweed with coconut lime oil, furikake sponge and squid ink tulle.

Cezar’s story

My name Is Cezar Macario Takahashi. I was born in Brazil 35 years ago but Japan Is my second love. Even though I’ve never been there my heart will always direct me towards it because of my grandmother, Fuji Kobayashi, who was Japanese and taught me everything I know.

My Grandma was eight years old when she was sent to Brazil from Ibaraki on the north east coast of Japan, running away from the war. She was separated from her family and as soon as she arrived in Brazil she had already a marriage organised by her aunty.

My Grandma told me that she knew already her fate and she spent the rest of the years waiting to grow up and be with my grandfather, Mituro Takahashi.

Even though my grandfather had a Japanese father and mother, he was born in Brazil. Both of my grandparents gave me my Japanese culture, heritage, habits and lifestyle. Unfortunately, my grandfather never wanted anybody to speak Japanese at home and I couldn’t learn the language properly. He had painful memories from his parents about the war, but it was always my dream to learn the language and live in Japan. I’ve learned a lot about the value of hard work and also to love and respect the sea and the fish from him.

My mind flies backwards all the time, remembering them because they raised me and guided me and I always think to myself ‘what would Grandpa do?’ Mituro was a very tough and silent man. We would only speak when he would take me on weekend mornings to his fishing boat to tell me I had to learn everything about the business in order to survive. On the other hand, my Grandma was lovely and kind and she would take me after school, hug and kiss me, and I would stay by her side the rest of the day while she was cooking for the fishermen and their wives. Every day we had the same routine together. I’ve learned how to cook all the recipes that she learned from her mum and aunty. She told me once that every day since she knew she had a husband, her aunty would teach her a traditional Japanese recipe. Her family used to have a seaweed farm back in Japan and from her I’ve learned to cure the salmon with the kobujime technique.

My Grandma helped me to understand my passion in life, which is cooking, and Grandpa taught me everything about fish and boats. My inspiration was born on those days when I used to hang on the boat looking into the sea and wondering about life on the bottom of the ocean? Which creatures could be there? How beautiful and quiet it must be! I wanted to live there!

My heart and my soul lives with Japan, the sea, and my grandparents and that’s how I inspire myself – through the love I have for my Fuji, my Corina (Grandma’s Brazilian name) my Bachan, my Grandma. I hope you can see what I see!

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