Sake To Me

-by Kathryn McAree

I had the pleasure of meeting Artisan Sake Maker Masa Shiroki at the Taste festival this summer and was thoroughly impressed.  So when I was invited to attend a sake pairing dinner in Victoria I couldn’t resist.

The Mark at the Hotel Grand Pacific regularly hosts first rate winemakers dinners.  September’s dinner was no exception with Executive Chef Rick Choy and Restaurant Chef Michael Minshull getting creative in the kitchen.  The chef’s pairings with the many sakes were delightful.  Starting with hors d’oeuvres during the reception, the meal was presented in six courses, each paired with sake.

We began with the most divine sparkling sake: Masa’s own Osake Sparkling Junmai Nama.  The first course, Qualicum Beach Roe on Scallop, was the beginning of a great adventure.  The next course surprised me.  Sturgeon.  I wasn’t all that excited about sturgeon, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.  It was fabulous.  The meaty fish had a refreshing citrus sauce complemented by a salty dollop of caviar and a bitter bite of watercress.  It worked beautifully with the sake.  Another sake, paired with Braised Bison Short Rib with Buckwheat and Celery Root Ravioli, arrived and quickly became my favourite course.  But then the cheese course arrived and it became my favourite…yes, a cheese course!  Three cheeses in their natural state served alongside a composed state that was most impressive; Gorgonzola with a Gorgonzola cheesecake, Époisse with a gougère, and Farmhouse Cheddar with a cheesesauce filled crouton that exploded with flavour.  The cheese plate paired perfectly with Osake-Junmai Nama Nigor, an unpasteurized slightly effervescent sake.  This cloudy looking sake was divine.  If you can believe it, there was still dessert.  It was a delicious challenge after six courses and, yes, six sakes.

Masa Shiroki was an absolute delight throughout the evening.  With each sake, he told an enchanting story.  Masa is working hard to promote sake with non-Japanese food pairings and it was obvious that the imaginative pairings pleased him.  Of his sake making, Masa shared with the diners his mission: to use natural ingredients, to concentrate on small productions, and to do everything by hand.  With a two month cycle for each sake, this is no simple task, but if anyone can do it, Masa Shiroki certainly can!  At 59 years old, his energy is enviable; his enthusiasm contagious.  Beginning to grow his own rice in Ashcroft, British Columbia, Masa wants to be the first land-based sake winery with 100% Canadian ingredients.  This new endeavour is a challenge providing fruitful. Hats off to Masa Shiroki and the team at the Hotel Grand Pacific…a delightful evening!

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