Bento Sushi began in 1996 as a small takeout shop in downtown Toronto. Today, they’re an essential feature of most grocery stores and is Canada’s largest sushi company with over 450 locations throughout North America. Bento’s california rolls are one of my favourite grab and go lunches. Every year, Bento challenges their chefs to get creative with their Sushi Champion Competition. Chefs are encouraged to stretch their imagination and submit new roll recipes to the contest. The top 6 rolls are chosen by region and the finalists are gathered to face off in a live event with a panel of judges. I had the chance to attend this year’s competition, themed the Bento Sushi Hungry Games and spent an afternoon munching on delicious sushi creations.
Disclaimer: All food and drinks reviewed below were provided complimentary. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine.
During the competition, the finalists had one hour to plate their roll for judging and prepare enough to feed a hungry audience. I had a chance to watch each rolls come together from start to end, chat with the chefs from each district of course, enjoy some delicious sushi from Bento. Each time a new sushi platter was brought out, the first pieces to disappear were the BBQ eel and salmon. I had to keep reminding myself to save room to for the main event, at least one piece each of the 6 finalists.
Once the hour of cooking was up, the panel of 4 judges (including Bento Sushi’s Director of Product Development and a MasterChef Canada finalist) tasted each contender and contemplated pretty seriously. The winning roll will become available at Bento locations for a limited time and the winning chef would receive a cash prize, so the judging was intense. At the same time, guests at the event voted for the people’s choice award.
The 6 rolls up for the championship were:
District 1: Sukhe Lee, British Columbia – BBQ Bulgogi Roll with Nuts (bulgogi beef, shiitake mushroom, cabbage, pickles, mixed nuts)
District 2: Sarina Yoth, Quebec – Maple Apple Crab Roll (crab, apple, maple syrup, tobiko)
District 3: Haruo Oikawa, New York – Haru Roll (tuna, tempura shrimp, unagi, jalapeno peppers, tartar and unagi sauce)
District 4: Mei Zang, Ontario – Prosciutto Roll (prosciutto, basil, tomato, lettuce, balsamic vinegar, feta cheese)
District 5: Huang Yan Fang, Ontario – Shrimp Roll (tempura shrimp, ebi shrimp, avocado, fried onion)
District 6: Hao Mai Vu, Manitoba – Torch Lobster Roll (torched lobster, scallop, pineapple, chili, avocado, teriyaki sauce)
My favourite, and the people’s choice winner was the Torch Lobster Roll. I really liked the sweetness of the pineapple combined with the fresh torched lobster and scallop. I also liked the Maple Apple Crab Roll for a similar combination of sweet and savoury. The avocado added a creaminess to each bite and the chili a touch of heat. Bothe the Bulgogi Roll with Nuts and Prosciutto Roll were inventive and used ingredients I don’t typically associate with sushi.
After quite some deliberation, the judges announced the winning roll to be the pretty pink Haru Roll, that was also packed with flavour. Each had crunch from the tempura, heat from the jalapeno and creamy from the tartar sauce. I had a great time tasting all of the rolls and can’t wait to see the Haru Roll in stores.