…O-Bento Sushi, that is, from John Kim’s shop in Waltham, MA.
“Jules’ food is all about taste, color, texture, balance, and freshness,” explained Jules Catering’s Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas, when we explored the topic of sushi after seeing the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. (The film delves the lifelong quest for sushi perfection by 85-year-old master-sushi chef, Jiro Ono, in Tokyo.)
“That’s why we feel such an affinity with John Kim of O-Bento, and that’s why he’s Jules’ only sushi vendor. The sushi he delivers to our kitchen three or four times a week is as pure and fresh as it is beautiful to the eye.”
The first word subtitled in the film is ‘deliciousness,’ we recalled.
“When I dream about O-Bento Sushi,” Anita smiled, “deliciousness most definitely applies.”
South Korean-born-world-traveler John Kim, who founded O-Bento Sushi soon after he “fell in love with the Charles River” and moved to the Boston area in the late 1980s, barely finds time to dream about sushi, simply because he allots many more hours to meticulous fish selection and sushi preparation than he does to sleep. Because his product cannot be offered to customers except when it’s absolutely fresh, this purveyor of sushi must grab sleep when he can, which is usually between 7 p.m. and midnight.
Outside this narrow window, John is either accepting deliveries of fresh fish from both near- and far-flung places (Southeast Asia, Nova Scotia, Maine, to name a few)…or he’s engaged in sushi preparation and presentation…or he’s overseeing prompt deliveries to Jules Catering’s Somerville kitchen, as well as to a host of other metro-Boston clients.
When morning deliveries wind up around 10 a.m., John may find time for a short nap. In rare spare time he enjoys hunting for antique sushi platters and boxes. “O-Bento is Japanese for ‘lunchbox,'” John explained.
When it comes to raw fish, what does it mean to be ‘fresh’? we wondered, as John Kim and a longtime colleague expertly prepared for a Saturday delivery.
“Absolutely no smell, no blood, bright skin, firm flesh.”
We surveyed John’s pristine shop. We inhaled deeply. We nodded in appreciation.
No doubt about it, there was no fishy scent, not a trace of blood, and the bright colors of the oh-so-fresh fish astounded. As did the speedy process: No sooner was the hand-rolling of sushi complete, than the rolls were sliced, arranged, and packaged for delivery.
Sushi “rollout” happens fast! Still, we managed to catch much of the process in still-photos:
Sushi means “raw fish,” correct?
No! The Japanese word sushi means “sour-tasting.”
This surprised us, but made perfect sense once we learned that the common ingredient to all sushi is vinegared rice, not raw or cooked fish.
O-Bento Sushi (like all Japanese sushi) features short-grained Japanese rice flavored with vinegar, sugar, and salt.
Jules-style sushi (variations on a traditional treat)
“Whenever we want to provide our clients with top-of-the-line Japanese sushi,” Anita Baglaneas explained, “we always turn to John Kim. But sometimes–for example, last May when we celebrated Jules’ 25th anniversary–we team up with O-Bento Sushi in a somewhat different way.”
“Because we developed a menu that improvised off of the traditional maki (rolled-sushi) and prepared some variations that called for something other than Japanese rice, our Executive Chef, Albert Rosado, prepared many of the fillings. One was a Greek-style maki roll with Arborio rice, feta, and tomatoes… another was a Jewish-style roll with smoked salmon and chived cream cheese… still another was a Spanish-style maki roll filled with saffron risotto, chicken, and chorizo–all rolled up in thin-sliced Spanish ham.”
“Even when Albert prepared the sushi fillings, John and his team at O-Bento rolled them up, which was no small feat given that we offered some 1600 pieces of sushi that night!”
O-Bento and Jules
O-Bento Sushi has been providing Jules Catering with sushi for about ten years, we observed, as John Kim paused for a photo before hopping into his van and setting off on deliveries.
“That’s right,” John smiled. “I am happy when my customers are happy, and Anita has taught me so much. When I started out I knew little about the American market, and she was my mentor. Yes, I value my longtime relationship with Anita and Jules.”
Sushi Rolls from O-Bento Sushi and portraits of John Kim: Liz Muir
Bowl of Sushi by Ichiyusai Hiroshige: Wikimedia Commons