Sushi comes to life when form follows flavor’s lead and a creative chef sculpts with rice and seafood.
One of the most serious tasks that Chef Wol Kim does is play with his food. In fact, the success of Mura—the popular sushi restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina’s North Hills community—depends in large part on just how much fun Chef Kim manages to convey in his food art.
In the world of sushi, where competition is fierce and creativity can sometimes become trapped in its traditional roots, the art of plating and presentation remains of utmost importance. “I personally think that even though the food can taste great, the appearance of the food has to be attractive to guests as well,” says Chef Kim. “Without the beautiful decorations, the plates aren’t as fun and unique.”
Chef Kim takes his sushi presentation above and beyond the norm, often creating flowers from colorful ingredients or turning lemon rind into a mouse, carving butterflies out of carrots, and transforming bits of rice, seaweed, and octopus into fanciful characters. It’s all in a regular day’s work for the chef, who has even been known to craft trending characters like Pokemon or the Minions from the animated comedy “Despicable Me.”
Few tools are needed to create the sushi art. Instead, Chef Kim says he mostly relies on special carving knives to decorate the sushi plates. He also uses food coloring and rice to mix and match colors and create character features. For decorative pinwheels, Kim cuts square-shaped “petals” out of whole radishes, decorating the tips with food coloring.
“I read many sushi decoration and carving books when I started working at Mura, and I continue to read these books to get more ideas for making different sushi art,” Chef Kim says. “When I have free time, I try my best to go to upscale sushi restaurants around the world to see how they decorate their sushi plates. Looking at these different plating styles gives me motivation to challenge myself, and create something beyond the expectations of our guests.”
Mura is the original concept that launched the career of restaurateur Gaurav “G” Patel, owner and founder of Eschelon Experiences, which has six restaurants in the Raleigh-Durham market.