Food as art
Teas and sushi on display at Humanities Gallery’s Far East Fusion events
Kei Iwabuchi, a beautiful Japanese woman in a turquoise-blue kimono belted with a goldenrod-hued obi, padded quietly onto the tatami after slipping off her sandals at the mat’s edge. She seated herself at the square table and bowed ever so slightly to the woman, also kimono-clad and shoeless, already seated on the tatami. Iwabuchi slowly arranged the tea bowls before reaching for the bright orange chakin (the cloth used to wipe the bowls and tea-serving utensils) and ceremoniously unfolded, folded and unfolded it again in a very graceful manner.
While carefully preparing the matcha (green tea) according to custom, Iwabuchi occasionally glanced at her seated “guest,” offering her the tiniest hint of a smile. The standing-room-only crowd (which included 21 visiting educators from Japan) was hushed as it observed the enactment of the delicate ceremony.
Thus began the unfolding of the refined artistry of the chanoyu (translated literally as “tea hot-water")—or traditional Japanese tea ceremony—held recently in the Chico State Humanities Center Gallery as part one of the two-part Far East Fusion! Art of Food and Fashion. Part two will be the upcoming sushi-as-art contest to be held at the gallery Nov. 14. Both events are part of a larger program called The Way of Asia 2008, a series of events focusing on contemporary and traditional Japanese art and culture, and the brainchild of dynamic Chico State art professor Masami Toku.
Toku is recognized world-wide as an expert on manga, or Japanese comic-book art, and the tea ceremony took place against the backdrop of colorful, four-panel manga cartoons plastering the walls of the gallery as part of the month-long exhibit she has curated, Manga Power! The World Through a Child’s Eyes. The cartoons were drawn by American and Japanese schoolchildren, including a large number of kids from various schools around Chico. This world premiere of the Manga Power! exhibit will embark on an international tour after its Humanities Gallery run ends Nov. 20.
On the walls of the gallery’s entrance hall hung 20 gorgeously decorated kimonos and obis—including a spectacular, white, wedding kimono (shiromuku)—which were to be auctioned off following the tea ceremony, with proceeds going to benefit the Japan-Chico Women’s Club and the CSUC Art Education Program
It was in this beauty-infused setting that audience members who had just witnessed the exquisite chanoyu were then invited to partake of the bowls of frothy, slightly bitter matcha and rectangular red-bean and green-tea sweets that were politely passed around by a group of young women wearing kimonos.
A similar delicious opportunity for audience participation can be expected at the upcoming sushi contest, when audience members will be offered all-you-can-eat California rolls after witnessing an Iron Chef-like sushi-making competition.
Toku, who has taught a class called Food as Art at Chico State for the past two years, is collaborating with the university’s food science department for this event. Entrants working in the Chico State Food Lab will be supplied with all the ingredients in California rolls—prepared rice, crabmeat, avocado, etc—and will have one hour to make and then arrange their rolls (using accessories they will be permitted to bring with them) to “display Japanese aesthetics particularly related to a particular season,” said Toku. Competitors’ artistic creations will be viewed by four judges (including a sushi chef each from the Rawbar and Japanese Blossoms restaurants) at the gallery in front of the audience.
“The competition is not how to make sushi,” Toku pointed out, “but how to display the California roll to represent Japanese beauty in connection with nature—to create a small natural universe, similar to [the idea behind] bonsai.”
First-, second- and third-place winners will receive Rawbar gift certificates for $100, $50 and $30, respectively.
If this inaugural sushi contest is a success, Toku says she would like it to be an annual event.
“Next year, I’d like to make a ‘Chico roll’ contest,” the effervescent Toku shared with a smile. “Maybe with nuts—to represent Chico, you know?”