I knew Yumi from my art classes in Central, where I sometimes attended to brush up on my drawing skills. It was therapeutic relaxation really. She attended most weeks and would arrange a ‘stand in’ if she couldn’t make it, but it was always a delight to see her. I’d known her for ages. On Saturday afternoons, life drawing classes lasted around an hour and after the class, we often exchanged thoughts on drawing techniques and style, sometimes over a coffee nearby.
Tonight was special because she says that there is an opening of a new Japanese restaurant in Causeway Bay, and she had invited me to go along.
“Its special tonight,” says Yumi, “as the restaurant is promoting a kind of food art.” She’s sure I’ll find the whole thing culinary entertaining.
We met that evening close by the restaurant and were shown inside to our seats, next to a large conveyor belt. Choice sushi cuts presented in the most ornate way pass by us on delicate looking little dishes. It’s kind of like a moving shop window; with patrons encouraged to self serve their own. Although we were sitting next to the conveyor, in a seat space, elbow to elbow with other guests, in somewhat cramped conditions, like all things Japanese there was still a ritual to perform. Yumi helps me with this, as in front of us was green tea on tap which she used to wash our tea cups, chop sticks and serving plate. The used tea was then drained away though a plug hole integrated into the counter top. She pours a thimble full of soy sauce into a small receptacle and stirs in a healthy helping of wasabi. That’s Japan’s answer to mustard, a green paste that makes the sinuses burn. She then proceeds to elegantly snatch a few dishes from the conveyor as they glide by.
I sit grinning a bit bemused by it all; Yumi smiles as she’s quietly taken charge of the occasion and introduces various dishes.
“This one, I know you like, raw tuna fish.” She says in her delicately accented English. I nod in appreciation.
“This one is prawn.” And I look at the plate to see three pink prawns, with their heads and tails still on but the raw flesh of their backs exposed, glistening in the light.
“And here is scallop.” Glancing again at the plate to see the three pieces of three quarter inch scallop arranged over a layer of cucumber and carrot and presented to look like flowers.
She’s a great host.
Presently she mentions she has to go and get ready, help with preparation of some of the presentation.
She’s gone a while, and as I sit sipping thimbles of dry sake, I realise I’m in the cheap seats. If I swivel around on my stool though, I can see long banquette style tables with lots of Japanese style business men beginning to arrive.
The interest in the evening is starting to wane, and I take may sketch book out of my bag and thumb through to take a look at some of the sketches I made of Yumi that afternoon; some views of Yumi kneeling, her hair cascading around her shoulders, some face studies, full charcoal nudes of her leaning against the wall. Yumi’s the art model and is a pleasure to paint as she has the ability to sit still for hours, not to mention her fine looking striking features that makes her beautiful!
I begin a sketch of a businessman really quick, his arms aflutter as he’s excitedly explaining something to his colleague.
Suddenly, the sound of a gong bong and an announcement in Japanese from the restaurant manager. I wish Yumi was back here as she seems to be missing what we came to see; the culinary show. A procession of chefs bring out platters of food, each arranged to represent the ornate delicacy of the food, along with ice carvings of a giant Japanese goldfish and a temple. The display is brilliant.
Then there’s a live sushi platter, where a naked woman, lying still has layers of raw fish covering her attributes.
Then I spot Yumi. And then I realise. She’s the main dish!
Sushi – Uncooked fish preparations, often the first course in a Japanese meal
Wasabi – Horseradish condiment
Abut the Author:
Michael Jerome is 41 years old and British and has lived in Hong Kong for over half his adult life. He likes to recount his experiences in art, culture and cuisine in his tall stories, taking readers to places and spaces off the tourist track.