FOOD WITH IMAGINATION: Danielle Gjestland at Wasabi Japanese Restaurant with wild river barramundi with yuzu and arame seaweed.
FOOD WITH IMAGINATION: Danielle Gjestland at Wasabi Japanese Restaurant with wild river barramundi with yuzu and arame seaweed. Geoff Potter

Japanese culture in the cuisine

WHEN she was growing up, Danielle Gjestland and chicken nuggets didn’t get on.

While most children are more than happy to stick to the kids’ menu at restaurants, Daniele was simply not interested.

“I was never happy with the kids’ menu,” she said.

“You couldn’t convince me to eat a chicken nugget.”

Instead, she preferred to order a dozen oysters.

Her parents were fairly adventurous foodies and that love of food trickled down to Danielle and her sister.

“There was never ‘You won’t like this – it’s not kids’ food’,” Danielle said.

“My parents pretty much fed us everything. It was never a big deal. Eating a raw oyster was never a big deal.”

With this adventurous and open attitude, it was little wonder that Danielle developed a deep love and appreciation for all foods and their preparation.

But it was learning to cook from a series of Japanese exchange students that Danielle’s love for Japanese food and culture was born.

“They would teach me to make dishes that their mums taught them to make,” she said.

“As a young girl, I had this collection of Japanese recipes.”

At age 12, Danielle announced to her family that she would be making sushi for dinner and since then, sushi has remained a staple of the passionate foodie’s diet.

Fast-forward to today and Danielle runs and manages the successful Japanese restaurant Wasabi on the Noosa River.

“I’ve always had a strange affinity with the food (Japanese) and the culture. It has always interested me,” she said.

So much so, Danielle has been to Japan at least a dozen times and visits at least once a year – whether it be to source specialised produce for the restaurant and the traditional ceramic dishes they serve the food on or simply for inspiration.

The restaurant has been open for eight years and has had rave reviews in newspapers all over cAustralia as well as being awarded 1 Chefs Hat in the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide.

Since the opening eight years ago, Danielle has observed a shift in customers’ attitude towards food – one which she excitably welcomes.

“When we first opened, we’d have people asking if their sashimi could be grilled – no joke,” she said with a laugh.

“People would order the raw tuna and salmon but they were very wary to try the raw scallops or cuttlefish.

“Now people order it freely and know it well enough to know when they have a good one.

“They know the different cuts of the fish and will ask for it by name. It’s really fantastic to see people interested and educated about the food they eat.

“It’s been a real shift and people are a lot more detail-orientated about food than they used to be.

“They want to know everything from how it is prepared to where it was grown or caught. It’s really encouraging.”

At home, Danielle likes to cook Asian-inspired meals when she’s having people over and still eats sushi at least five or six times a week. Her favourite raw fish is Aji – one not commonly used in sushi. In Australia, Aji is considered bait and not often sold to eat.

“It’s really hard to find anyone who handles it as the amazing fish it is,” Danielle said.

“It’s a slow process to change the attitude around it.”

Aji with Shiso Dressing

12 very fresh yellow tail horse mackerel (Aji, scaled, gutted and filleted with rib cage bones still in place)

coarse salt (enough to cover fish)

1 small onion

16 green shiso leaves

7g ginger (grated)

3g sugar

75ml grapeseed oil

150ml rice vinegar

½ yuzu (juiced) or

½ lemon and ½ lime (juiced)

¼ long red chilli (chopped)

10cm x 20cm konbu

2 punnetts of micro herbs

¾ long red chilli (fine julienne garnish)

Yuzu Su

Combine rice vinegar, yuzu juice, chilli and konbu. Refrigerate for two days to infuse.

Shiso dressing

Combine 150ml Yuzu Su liquid, 10 shiso leaves, sugar and grapeseed oil with a hand blender.

Quickly cure the aji with salt for 10 minutes.

Remove the rib bones after curing (if you remove them before curing, the belly will be over-cured).

Rinse with ice cold water to remove salt. Dry well.

Slice the onion as fine as possible and soak in water for 10 minutes to remove some of the heat, then strain.

Julienne six of the shiso leaves and mix with the onion.

Lay the cured aji length-wise on a large plate. Dress with shiso dressing, shiso onion mix and micro herbs.

Garnish with fine julienne chilli.

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