What better way to recover from my recent vacation to Chicago (where I essentially over-ate every day) than to attend a sushi competition, where I spent the day stuffing my face?! Pretty good re-integration strategy, I’d say!

My pal, Karen Ng (@sincerelykn), invited me to join her and some other foodie friends to see how the top 6 Bento Sushi chefs from across the country roll at Bento Sushi’s 5th Annual Sushi Champion Competition.

Each year, Bento Sushi chefs across Canada can get as creative as they want by submitting a sushi roll design of their choice. Bento Sushi then selects the top 6 chefs, who become the finalists in a live competition, where they battle it out for the title of Bento Sushi Champion! The winning chef is awarded $5,000 and gets to have his or her roll featured on Bento’s menu.

Held at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management this year on Wednesday, May 11th, the event drew a large crowd, consisting of foodies, industry experts, and generally, very hungry people! There was also an all-star judging panel, which included a Director of Product Development for Bento Sushi, a blogTO writer, and a MasterChef Canada finalist!

With gigantic sushi platters and other yummy appetizers being served prior to the main event, it was hard not to fill up before trying the competing rolls!

The theme for this year’s competition was Hunger Games. Playing on the theme, each chef was designated a separate district for the competition, broken down as follows:

  1. District 1: Sukhe Lee, British Columbia – BBQ Bulgogi Roll with Nuts (Roll highlights: bulgogi beef, shiitake mushroom, cabbage, pickles, mixed nuts)
  2. District 2: Sarina Yoth, Quebec – Maple Apple Crab Roll (Roll highlights: crab, apple, maple syrup, tobiko)
  3. District 3: Haruo Oikawa, New York – Haru Roll (Roll highlights: tuna, tempura shrimp, unagi, jalapeno peppers, tartar and unagi sauce)
  4. District 4: Mei Zang, Ontario – Prosciutto Roll (Roll highlights: prosciutto, basil, tomato, lettuce, balsamic vinegar, feta cheese)
  5. District 5: Huang Yan Fang, Ontario – Shrimp Roll (Roll highlights: tempura shrimp, ebi shrimp, avocado, fried onion)
  6. District 6: Hao Mai Vu, Manitoba – Torched Lobster Roll (Roll highlights: torched lobster, scallop, pineapple, chili, avocado, teriyaki sauce)

The competition was pretty stiff for this battle – the gloves came off, and it was no more Mr. Rice Guy!

While each roll had such a distinct flavour profile, they were all so close in terms of quality and overall taste. I might have had to try more than one sample of a few of the rolls, for quality assurance purposes 😉

The judging for this competition was pretty tough, and everyone I spoke to agreed that it was going to be really difficult to choose a winner.

But in the end, it was Haruo Oikawa with the Haru Roll (tuna, tempura shrimp, unagi, jalapeno peppers, tartar and unagi sauce), which also happened to be my favourite roll, that emerged victorious!

An honourable mention also goes out to the BBQ Bulgogi Roll with Nuts (bulgogi beef, shiitake mushroom, cabbage, pickles, mixed nuts), which was the 1st runner up,

and the Prosciutto Roll (prosciutto, basil, tomato, lettuce, balsamic vinegar, feta cheese), which was the 2nd runner up.

A heart-felt congratulations goes out to Haruo Oikawa, who was actually moved to tears after winning the competition!

Thanks again to Karen for inviting me out and a big shout-out to my other foodie friends in attendance.

Pictured from left to right: Xiao (@xiaoeats), me, Karen (@sincerelykn), Patrick (@feedmyphone), Yuki (@pekopekolife), Alice (@meetandeats), and Raymond (@travellinfoodie).