Taka Watanabe has a big responsibility riding on his shoulders. His hands, actually. It's up to him to salvage the Sacramento area's sushi reputation. Watanabe, owner of Taka's Sushi in Fair Oaks, and partner in Kru in midtown Sacramento, just has been named one of nine chefs to compete in the second annual California State Sushi Competition, also known as SushiMasters.
During the first competition last year, two local sushi chefs, Kotaro "Taro" Arai of the Mikuni group of restaurants and Ranee Delacruz of Dragonfly and Tokyo Fro's, were shut out. The overall winner, Jerry Warner of Cafe Japengo in San Diego, will return to defend his title.
Watanabe is supremely confident he will represent Sacramento proudly. "I’m going to win. I have something up my sleeve," he says.
The chefs, chosen by a panel of sushi instructors and chefs convened by the sponsoring California Rice Commission, will be judged in three categories: morikomi, signature roll and the "California governor's roll," the latter to be based on a list of ingredients drawn up by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Morikomi is a traditional combination sushi plate that is to include nigiri, maki and temaki styles.
Four of the other chefs are from the San Francisco area, two are from Los Angeles and one each is from San Diego.
For the first time this year, the competition, to be at Memorial Auditorium, will be open to the public. Tickets - $50 each - are to go on sale later this month at www.sushimasters.com and www.tickets.com. The event is to include sushi, a buffet, and wine, beer and sake.
Watanabe, incidentally, hasn't been affiliated for three years with the recently closed Sacramento restaurant Taka's Sushi, also known as Taka Japanese Restaurant.