Scenes from the Eighth Annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, at which Ryan Tatsumoto was a panelist and judge. (Photos courtesy Ryan Tatsumoto)
Scenes from the Eighth Annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, at which Ryan Tatsumoto was a panelist and judge. (Photos courtesy Ryan Tatsumoto)

Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

As Andy Warhol said in 1968, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Well, my time in the spotlight lasted a little more than 15 minutes. Actually, it lasted for two 30-minute sessions at the eighth annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival.

If you didn’t already know, besides this The Hawai‘i Herald column, I also pen a monthly column for the Nichi Bei Weekly, which was originally a daily newspaper known as the Nichi Bei Times. It was published in Japanese and English to keep Northern California’s Japanese American community connected after the people’s release from the internment camps. Some 15 years ago, I started writing a monthly column on food, nutrition and wine for the then-Nichi Bei Times, and actually increased my columns to twice a month for about a year.

In 2009, however, the owners decided to cease publishing the Nichi Bei Times due to declining circulation and increasing costs. The paper’s senior editor, Kenji Taguma, decided to turn the Nichi Bei Times into the Nichi Bei Weekly, operated by the nonprofit Nichi Bei Foundation. Its mission was to keep the Asian American community connected though the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Sometime after becoming a nonprofit, Taguma created the Soy and Tofu Festival as an annual fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Weekly. The event features soy and tofu education, food vendors, a soy and tofu dessert recipe contest and live entertainment. Since its start, Kenji has wanted me to judge the dessert contest and to also represent the Weekly as its resident food columnist. One issue kept that from happening: It required that I fly to San Francisco, and the Nichi Bei Foundation didn’t have the luxury of paying for my ticket. This year, however, the Mrs. and I scheduled our vacation to coincide with the festival.

The Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition

It isn’t an Iron Chef competition by any means, but the competitors in the Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition are hardly nobodies. They are home economists and professional bakers.

The dessert competition has one simple rule: All recipes must contain a soy product as one of the top three ingredients by weight. Also, each semifinalist must prepare 60 1-ounce samples for the audience and five full samples for the five judges. Three semifinalists are normally selected; this year, however, a fourth was added to the competition. They turned out to be:

• Eri Combs, a professional baker, who named her creation, Berry Tofu Cheesecake;

• Jennifer Hasegawa, an information architect whose creation was called Soy Cream Pan with Kinako Swirl;

• Kim Guess, a dietician, created a Triple Tofu Black Forest Trifle; and

• Akimi Furutani, a creator, concocted what she called Tofu Big Wave.

The judges, along with yours truly, were Henry Hsu of Hodo Foods; Linda Harms Okazaki, past president of the California Genealogical Society; Russell Jeung, Asian American Studies director at San Francisco State University; and Laarnie Bercilla Carlos, chef/owner of Royalicing.

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Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”

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