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DJEDDAH: The Goodwill Ambassador of Japanese Cuisine in the Middle East is working to bring his country’s food, ingredients and culinary expertise to a Saudi market that he believes would benefit from greater exposure to Japanese culture and traditions.

“I want to share with everyone I know, really, ‘Ana Saeed’ (I’m happy). I want to see more food exchange between Japan and Saudi Arabia,” said Chef Taki Sato.

Chef Taki Sato, Goodwill Ambassador of Japanese Cuisine and Wakame Brand Ambassador. (Photo / Huda Bashatah)

When he came to Saudi Arabia, Sato discovered that the people there preferred a fusion of Japanese and traditional flavors and cooking methods. So he had to adapt as part of what he is now achieving as a career rebirth.

“I recognize that there are two types of Saudis who love Japanese food,” he said. The first type “likes fried sushi”, he explained, while the second type has a more general appreciation of “for example, fresh fish and very specific Japanese ingredients”.

He added: “Most Saudis are of the first type: sushi, fried food and noodles. “

Sato, who has nearly 30 years of experience as a chef, was named the first Goodwill Ambassador of Japanese cuisine to the Middle East in 2019 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. . He is responsible for using his professional knowledge and experience to promote and provide information about Japanese cuisine and culinary culture.

His responsibilities in this mission are to educate chefs about Japanese cuisine, teach them the culinary skills necessary in Japanese food preparation techniques, and train them in the use of ingredients to create “umami”.

Chef Sato discusses some of his preparation techniques. (Photo / Huda Bashatah)

Umami, a “very rich and specific” salty taste, is a popular flavor characteristic of Japanese cuisine that Sato said he hopes to “synchronize” with Saudi culinary culture.

“I am also an ambassador for the Wakame brand, in addition to being in communication with the Japanese government,” he said. “We must deepen the ties between Saudi Arabia and Japan through the exchange of food, culinary expertise and culture.”

Food exports from Japan to Saudi Arabia total just $ 16.8 million, according to recent figures from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, while Saudi food exports to Japan are minimal.

Food exports from Japan to Saudi Arabia (2019) total $ 16.8 million. (Observatory of economic complexity)

“The Japanese government wants to share the techniques and ingredients of our chefs, and they want me to promote this training exchange,” he said. “In Saudi Arabia, a lot of chefs want to learn. “

Sato recently hosted a sushi rolling workshop in Jeddah that attracted 100 chefs. In April of next year, he plans to bring Michelin-starred chefs from Japan to the region to host more workshops.

He arrived in the Middle East 10 years ago, first working at Zuma, one of Dubai’s leading Japanese restaurants. Two years later, he moved to Riyadh to become the executive chef of Yokari, before moving to Wakame in Jeddah.

Sato said that in trying to maintain the authenticity of Japanese cuisine while combining it with traditional flavors and fusion techniques to meet local tastes, he has become more creative in his cooking.

He revealed that he currently purchases many of his ingredients from local Chinese stores, but believes that better availability of authentic Japanese ingredients would help increase local appreciation for traditional Japanese cuisine.

Chef Sato and local chefs under his direction. (Photo / Huda Bashatah)

During this time, he was an advisor on a MAFF project to introduce the experience of Japanese cuisine and culinary art to top Saudi chefs. These include Yasser Jad, president of the Saudi Arabian Chefs Association, who Sato says is interested in new collaborations and exchanges between Japan and the Kingdom, and Khulood Olaqi, Arabia’s first female sushi expert. Arabia and owner of Oishii Sushi in Riyadh.

Sato also serves on the board of directors of several food culture expansion projects in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, including the Cool Japan Fund, which aims to stimulate demand for Japanese products and services abroad, l Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo teaching institute and the ABC Cooking School. .

OEC statistics reveal that the total value of Saudi Arabian exports to Japan grew at an annualized rate of 4.24%, from $ 9.05 billion in 1995 to $ 24.5 billion in 2019. main products were crude oil, valued at $ 23 billion, refined petroleum ($ 537 million). , and acyclic alcohols $ 255 million).

The value of Japan’s exports to Saudi Arabia grew at an annualized rate of 3.37%, from $ 2.95 billion in 1995 to $ 6.55 billion in 2019. They include cars (3, $ 72 billion), delivery trucks ($ 399 million) and auto parts $ 223 million).

A Japanese-Saudi e-sports competition was held on October 2-3. Organizers said they hope the event will help strengthen ties between the two nations, promote their cultures and enrich the global economy.

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