Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yuji Matsumoto: Sake sommelier for Kabuki Japanese Restaurant

In May, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, the Japanese restaurant chain with 13 locations in California and Arizona, welcomed Yuji Matstumoto as their new sake sommelier. Matsumoto's duties will also include expanding and maintaining a beverage list of cocktails and wines for Kabuki.

Matsumoto received his certification from the Sake Service Institute in Japan. He previously had his own small sushi restaurant, worked as sake and beverage manager with Tokyo Table. He also served as President of the California Sushi Academy, and was one of three U.S. representatives to compete in the 2nd World Sake Sommelier Competition in Tokyo. Kabuki's CEO and owner David Lee drafted Matsumoto to help increase the sale of beverages, particularly sake and cocktails.

"I try to use Japanese or Asian ingredients such as yuzu," Matsumoto said about creating cocktails for a Japanese restaurant. "Also in terms of alcohol I like to use soju and sake mainly."

The emphasis is to create mild and refreshing tastes that can go with delicate flavors present in Japanese cuisine.

For example, Matsumoto developed several new cocktails of Saketinis and Tokyo Mojitos with light, fruit flavors. The former comes in flavors of creamy peach, lychee and yuzu. The latter, a — "Tokyo-style Mojioto" made with sake and soju — comes in cucumber, greapefruit and lychee flavors.

Matsumoto also created a line of vodka sodas using sodas flavored with lychee, mango and pomegranate.

Matsumoto said he was slowly working on the wine list for Kabuki once he finishes training the staff a bit more.

"Wine tends to have more body and acidity so sometimes wine overpowers food, but nowadays there are a lot of fusion can see in the menu that we've been using a lot of spice and mayonnaise [in our foods]. So we probably won't have a lot of the heavy full-bodied wines, but more of the light refreshing wines can be very good."

When asked about consumer knowledge about sake, Matsumoto answered, "I think it’s getting better compared to five, six years ago. Some still have wrong information about sake. They think it should be served hot or all premium should be chilled, but people are getting more interested in sake. Whenever I do pairings, they’re pleased and surprised by the aroma, variety and taste."

He added that "people who have knowledge about wine, they really understand the procedure and tastes" when it comes to introducing different varieties of sake.

Currently Kabuki offers a sake sampler both for the happy hour and on the regular menu so that customers can try several varieties.

Kabuki's sake menu offers a wide range sake varieties as well as those not made in Japan.

"American sake tends to have more acidity and texture because the water used is here is hard water, where in Japan it's mostly soft water," Matsumoto commented about the difference between Japanese sake and its brethren created on this side of the hemisphere. "The rice they not perfect sake rice, though it still has a good quality."

Matsumoto said that the less subtle qualities of Californian sake works better with non-traditional Japanese food, recalling, "When I did a pairing with Mexican food and sake, none of the Japanese sake was a good match."

A press release from Kabuki stated that Matsumoto "will continue to offer sake tastings and educational classes in the community, and tied-in with Kabuki’s menu. Additionally, sake lovers can keep an eye out for a blog by Matsumoto on deliciously paired sake and food combinations and other sake notes."

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