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Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa students and cooks get a taste of Japan thanks to corporate chef John Sugimura

John Sugimura, a Taher corporate chef, brought Japanese cooking to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School last week. Sugimura is a Minnesota-born, Japanese-raised, second-generation professionally trained sushi chef. For nearly two years, he has traveled to more than 100 schools.

Annie Schmidt carefully distributes sliced radishes onto dishes as Taher corporate chef John Sugimura teaches students how to make Japanese dumplings during a demonstration in Breeana Zaic's classroom at BBE High School March 23, 2022.
Annie Schmidt carefully distributes sliced radishes onto dishes as Taher corporate chef John Sugimura teaches students how to make Japanese dumplings during a demonstration in Breeana Zaic's classroom at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School March 23, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

BELGRADE — Students in Breeana Zaic's functional skills classroom could hardly contain their excitement as Japanese dumplings sizzled in a pan at the head of the room at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School. A tall man, dressed head-to-toe in black chef attire, soon entered the room with a fist full of chopsticks and a bold, warm personality to greet them.

Video: Students at BBE get a taste of Japan

Taher corporate chef John Sugimura has spent much of his recent life traveling around from school to school showing students just how important good food can be.

Sugimura is a Minnesota-born, Japanese-raised, second-generation professionally trained sushi chef. He graduated from the Sushi Institute of America in Little Tokyo, and has dedicated much of his recent life educating others about the power of food and its health benefits.

On Wednesday, he traveled around from classroom to classroom teaching BBE students how to make his grandmother's Japanese dumplings recipe, which is more than 100 years old.

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Jaylin Powers practices using her chop sticks by grabbing a piece of sliced radish as Taher corporate chef John Sugimura as he does a demonstration in Breeana Zaic's classroom at BBE High School March 24, 2022.
Jaylin Powers practices using her chopsticks by grabbing a piece of sliced radish as Taher corporate chef John Sugimura does a demonstration in Breeana Zaic's classroom at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School on March 23, 2022 in Belgrade.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

On Tuesday, Sugimura assisted the cooks of BBE High School in preparing a "Karaage-Don" fried chicken meal for lunch.

"They're getting a lunch as if they're on the streets of Kyoto," Sugimura said of the meal. "Everyone deserves to eat great food because you deserve it. We're doing food as it's supposed to be."

The food preparation may have been a bit more work for the cooks at the school, but everyone was beaming with excitement as the meals were distributed to the students.

"It keeps us very busy and takes a little longer, but they get to learn about some of the foods that are popular in other countries," cook Penny Erickson said.

Taher corporate chef John Sugimura talks to students as they go through the cafeteria lines at BBE High School March 23, 2022.
Taher corporate chef John Sugimura talks to students as they go through the cafeteria lines at BBE High School on March 22, 2022, in Belgrade.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

For nearly two years, Sugimura has traveled to more than 100 schools, where he has shared his culinary knowledge to more than 100,000 students.

"I've got 350 more schools to go," he added, with a laugh. "My schedule is full for the next three-and-a-half years."

Taher corporate chef John Sugimura shows students the proper technique for folding Japanese dumplings in Breeana Zaic's classroom at BBE High School March 24, 2022.
Taher corporate chef John Sugimura shows students the proper technique for folding Japanese dumplings in Breeana Zaic's classroom at BBE High School on March 23, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

As students picked up their meals and headed to eat with their friends, some were faced with the challenge of using chopsticks. Sugimura made the rounds, showing them the proper way to hold them.

Once they had the hand motion down, they could finally enjoy the healthy, tasty meal. And did they ever.

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"It's really good," said ninth-grade student Aliza Rocha. "I stopped being so picky and am trying all the food instead of just the chicken."

Taher corporate chef John Sugimura talks to students about how to use chopsticks in the cafeteria of BBE High School on March 23, 2022.
Taher corporate chef John Sugimura talks to students about how to use chopsticks in the cafeteria of BBE High School on March 22, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
BBE High School sophomore Madison Hofmann smiles while learning how to properly hold chop sticks from Taher corporate chef John Sugimura March 23, 2022.
BBE High School sophomore Madison Hofmann smiles while learning how to properly hold chopsticks from Taher corporate chef John Sugimura on March 22, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Macy Moore is an award-winning photojournalist at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minnesota.
She can be reached via email: mmoore@wctrib.com or phone: 320.214.4338.
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