Sake (pronounced SAH-kay not SAH-kee) fans rejoice, we sat down with Benihana Inc.'s Senior Director of Beverage, Alfredo Martinez to find out about RA Sushi, World Sake Day, how this rice wine is brewed and a few misconceptions about this beverage in this month's Something You Should know!
ATHLEISURE MAG: Can you tell us about RA Sushi, which we know is under Benihana Inc, the parent company to RA Sushi, Haru and of course, Benihana. Also tell us who you are and what you do at RA Sushi.
ALFREDO MARTINEZ: I’m the Senior Director of Beverage for all of the 3 brands that you mentioned as well as Samurai which is a concept here in Miami. We’re very lucky to have various brands. Benihana which everybody knows – we cook in front of you. RA Sushi, is the wild child. We are high energy, vibrant environment that is built on a strong happy hour with very innovative sushi. If you ever have a chance to go, we will be very happy to take care of you. It just so happens that during October, we will celebrate Nihonshu No Hi or World Sake Day and it’s just a world wide celebration day of Japanese food and culture. We’re thrilled to share a little bit of that which starts on Oct 1st and we will have specials such as $1 hot sake, Spiked Sushi Roll which is a brand new roll that we have where the tuna is marinated in sake and there is a sake pairing with it. We’re thrilled for people to try it.
AM: For those that aren’t familiar what is the process of making sake, are there varietals and in making it – is more like a wine or a beer?
AM: That’s a great question. The misconception comes when people call it a rice wine but it is actually brewed more like a beer. Since that is the case, it means that it is going to have some
of the elements of beer making. The important things to remember about sake is that there are only 4 ingredients various varieties that you can choose from), water – which is very important so the sake depending on where it is brewed in the North of Japan or the South of Japan you’ll have different qualities of water which are all amazing – but one may be a little bit more heavier, softer or sweeter depending on water content and it will have a big impact on what sake will taste like. Then you will have different kinds of yeast, which the makers will have to select the right kind to go with the rice that they are using, and koji – a special Japanese mold that will help with the brewing process and the fermentation process. Sake is the only beverage in the world that goes through a complex fermentation, but most importantly it’s sulphate free, gluten free as well. The craft and mastery of the sake creations are what we try to showcase at the restaurant to have a varied assortment for our guests to try that come from all over Japan as well as the US.
AM: Is there sake production in the US?
AM: Absolutely, you have breweries that are popping up everywhere. You have some very established ones in California and Oregon. Now we’re also seeing some are popping up in Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas. There is a lot of interest in learning more about this very special beverage because it is very versatile with food. That’s another misconception that you should only drink sake with Japanese food. It goes well with things such as steak, cheese, even dessert! There is a sparkling sake that we have at RA Sushi that we actually create mixology with that, but also as a great way to just finish your meal.
AM: What are some of the sake drinking traditions and what do you guys have going on at RA Sushi for World Sake Day?
AM: What we try to do with the celebration is to train our servers and to share with people this experience. On Oct 1st, we have Sushi 101 Classes where people can come in to learn not only how to make sushi, sushi rice, how to pair it together, but also we pair it with sake. We also include traditions. For example, if I am sitting with you, it’s never appropriate for you to serve yourself sake. I would serve you as it’s important to embrace hospitality and that’s what we do in our restaurants. The other thing is that sake is used at various ceremonies and rituals like weddings, sumo matches, etc. When we open a new restaurant, we will break a new cask of sake to celebrate the fact that we have just launched a new property.
AM: Should it be enjoyed hot or cold and are there certain sakes that should only be consumed one way?
AM: Another good point! We have been used to drinking it hot, but it’s another misconception that it should be enjoyed this way as it’s best slightly chilled or room temperature. It depends on the type of sake. The best type of sake in my opinion to warm is the fuller body or Junmai. When it’s warmed to the perfect temperature it becomes a little sweeter and softer. The more delicate sake should be enjoyed chilled because you are eating lighter types of food with it. That would be my recommendation.
AM: You talked a little about this earlier but how is the Spiked Sushi Roll made?
AM: The culinary and beverage teams put our heads together and tried to think about how the best way to celebrate sake month in Oct could be. Our chefs came up with a sushi roll where the tuna is marinated in sake and its rolled with seaweed and rice and we top it with two kinds of tuna, white and red. We then pair it with a Nigori sake which has been infused with cucumber. So of course, when you're ordering this sushi, we are going to card you – so bring your ID! You’ll also experience the rich flavors of Nigori sake with the tuna.
AM: How is it celebrated in Japan?
AM: Well basically, it’s more of a cultural celebration. This event really marks the start of the brewing season of sake. There are a number of small celebrations in the houses because people are saying goodbye to their loved ones before they go to the breweries to produce this beverage for days in a row. They have to be there everyday.
AM: So how long is the brewing season?
AM: It can go anywhere from 4 weeks to 8 weeks and then there is an aging period. So all together, it’s 6 months for it to be brewed. It's meant to be drank within a year. For our restaurants, that's why there is such a big dynamic in how we change our menus. It’s a great opportunity to try different styles because they are all going to be a little different.
AM: How do you toast someone or say cheers on World Sake Day?
AM: When you come to our restaurants, we have a lot of things going on during the whole month of Oct! But when you are with a group of friends, you just raise your glass and say kanpai! That’s the traditional way to say it in Japan.
IG @RA Sushi
Read more from the Sep Issue of Athleisure Mag and see Something You Should Know | Get Ready for World Sake Day in mag.