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Students get a taste of JapanFree Access

THE GROSSE POINTES — Students at Grosse Pointe South and Grosse Pointe North high schools were treated to authentic Japanese food in early April from recipes dating back 100 years.

John Sugimura, a third-generation Japanese-American, visited the district for three days, including making lunch at each school. Sugimura is part of the chef’s council at Taher, the Minnesota-based company that handles food service for GPPSS.

Photo by Renee Landuyt
Chef John Sugimura of Taher, the Minnesota-based company that handles food services for Grosse Pointe Public Schools, visited Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools earlier this month to serve students authentic, third-generation Japanese food.

“That’s all I do is Japanese food,” he said. “We have other chefs on the council who specialize in French food, Italian food. It’s in our DNA to be authentic and use multi-generational recipes.”

For the two lunches, he made yakitori and yakisoba, grilled chicken skewers and grilled noodles with vegetables.

“I want to make food interesting and give the kids options,” Sugimura said. “Food that is low in allergens and low in fat. That way the students are filling up on proteins instead of starches.

“This opens up their world so they’re not having chicken patties on Monday, chicken nuggets on Tuesday, chicken tenders on Wednesday,” he laughed. “A lot of them came back for seconds and even thirds. That’s the best testimonial. I don’t want to just feed them, but give them food their bodies like.”

On the third day of his visit, Sugimura made gyoza, a traditional Japanese dumpling, for a combination of culinary arts and social studies students at North. The dumplings hold a special place for the professionally trained sushi chef who holds a master’s degree in sushi and Japanese food from Kagawa University near Tokyo.

“This is food my grandmother made and it helps me tell her story,” he said.

His grandparents immigrated from Japan to Sacramento, Calif., in 1917. After his grandfather died, his grandmother opened a restaurant in the 1930s. Then came World War II.

“They lost everything,” Sugimura said. “They were sent to Tule Lake.”

Tule Lake was the largest of 10 internment camps into which the government ordered some 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast.

“Obviously my grandmother couldn’t take a recipe book to the camp, so everything had to be recreated from memory,” he said. “I’ve made more than 1 million of them.”

Sugimura has been touring schools for Taher for five years.

“I’ve been on the road every day since August,” he said. “I’ve fed more than 200,000 students in 170 schools this year. I fly home Friday night and fly back out Sunday every weekend.”

While preparing lunch at South and North, yakitori and yakisoba were the only options aside from the salad bar.

“We did have a pizza in the oven for an emergency in case someone was going to be really thrown off,” he said during his visit to South. “Only two slices were requested. When everyone is eating the same thing, it brings a real sense of community.”

Sugimura said he’d like to come back to the Pointes and cook at every building.

“We recently were in a district in Texas where we fed 5,000 in one day,” he said.

Fans of “Sushi Master,” an Iron Chef-style show on Roku, will recognize Sugimura, who was a contestant on season one.

“We had 70 million viewers,” he said. “It’s the most-watched streaming show ever.”