Trevor Corson’s book The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice was partly born out of concern with an ecological disaster in the making. Factory fishing and fish-farming industries, global seafood distributors, and international Asian restaurant operations profit from invented stereotypes about Japanese cultural purity in their worldwide marketing of sushi, with the result that sushi lovers end up risking their own health and, without intending to, contributing to the decimation of global fish stocks in a way that isn’t true to sushi tradition—particularly in the case of bluefin tuna. Trevor’s work has emphasized a more unexpected history of miscegenation: sushi as a cross-cultural and environmentally-aware hybrid whose folkways and traditional diversity of techniques and ingredients hold the key to more sustainable consumption.
When The Story of Sushi was published Trevor drew attention to these issues in an op-ed in The New York Times. After The Story of Sushi was named a Best Food Book of the Year by Zagat and The Best American Food Book of the Year by the Gourmand Awards, Trevor began hosting a series of guided historical sushi dinners, primarily at the Michelin-starred Jewel Bako restaurant in New York City. Drawing on his extensive Japanese-language research into the history of Japan’s cuisine, Trevor collaborated closely with traditionally-trained Japanese chefs to design menus representing a more diverse style of sushi, truer to the roots of the cuisine as it was probably eaten a century ago. At each meal Trevor guided his guests through the menu, weaving anecdotes from his research together with real-time tips on how to appreciate the skills of a old-fashioned sushi chef, in the process revealing secrets of sushi history, craft, appreciation, and etiquette that often came as a surprise even to seasoned sushi aficionados.
Describing Trevor’s unique approach to sushi, journalist and sustainable seafood expert Paul Greenberg wrote in The New York Times Magazine:
Trevor Corson is an East Asia scholar turned popular nonfiction writer and author of the 2007 book The Story of Sushi, and for select groups he will act as a “sushi concierge,” hosting dinners often at the Jewel Bako Japanese restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, one of which I attended this past winter. A Corson-guided meal aims to reveal the historical truth of tuna and to represent the very different fish that were the staples of sushi in earlier times. Plate by plate I watched as Corson walked a group of Manhattan professionals through a traditional Edo-period meal.
Trevor’s historical sushi dinners have also been featured on Japanese national television (below) and in The New York Times Dining & Wine section, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Time Out New York, Tasting Table, Washington City Paper, United Airlines Hemispheres magazine, Plate Magazine, and other publications.
After six years of hosting the dinners Trevor had to put the events on hiatus due to an increasingly busy teaching schedule. Sushi enthusiasts can still delve into a copy The Story of Sushi and then, armed with the information from the book, pursue a more interesting and sustainable sushi experience themselves—a lifelong adventure. Thankfully, this adventure is getting easier to pursue, as a small but growing number of sustainable sushi restaurants has begun to appear around the United States. See if one exists near your location; these establishments are trying to help preserve sushi and our oceans for the future, and they deserve our business. Two of Trevor’s favorite sustainable sushi chefs whom he’s visited recently are Chef Mike Han at Mayanoki in New York City and Chef Hajime Sato at Mashiko in Seattle—give them a try!
Trevor is also a fan of the southern American sushi chef Marisa Baggett, whose prolific work in the Memphis area emphasizes local ingredients and vegetarian sushi options as alternatives to industrially over-harvested sushi fish. If you’re interested in trying to make your own sushi at home that’s more sustainable, check out Marisa’s cookbooks Sushi Secrets, to which Trevor wrote the foreword, and her sequel, Vegetarian Sushi Secrets. To learn more about Marisa and other non-traditional sushi chefs, read Trevor’s article “American Sushi” in The Atlantic.