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Connecting Food to Culture: Japanese Chef Visits FD Schools - from The Messenger

November 17, 2022

Students in the special education classes at Fort Dodge Middle School learned from a pro how to expertly fold Japanese gyoza dumpling wrappers on Wednesday.

Second-generation Japanese-American Chef John Sugimura, a corporate chef with Taher Inc., is visiting the Fort Dodge Community School District this week to share the culture and food of Japan. He spent Tuesday with the culinary arts classes at Fort Dodge Senior High.

"The point is to give them a hands-on foodie experience with a recipe that they're not familiar with, to open up their world to include Japan," Sugimura said. "To give them an opportunity to taste something, to smell something, to chop up something that was unfamiliar to them."

On Wednesday, Sugimura visited the special education classes at FDMS and gave them a tutorial on crafting the perfect gyoza.

"A Japanese dumpling is folded the same way every time," Sugimura said. "We make it pretty. Japanese cooking is about making pretty food."

Sugimura is an expert in Japanese cuisine and a master sushi chef. He's competed on "Guy's Grocery Games" on Food Network and will be competing on the upcoming season of "Iron Chef."

Sugimura doesn't just teach students how to make gyoza dumplings - he connects the dumplings to Japan's culture and how food fits in with its history.

"It's expanding their horizons and gives them common ground," Sugimura said. "Most people don't really know anything about Japanese food."

"It's been a joy having him here," said Chef Nick Sells, Taher chef director for the FDCSD.

Taher has several corporate chefs who travel to different school districts across the country to teach students about different national cuisines and cultures and to bring authentic foods to students, Sugimura said.

Gyoza dumplings are the most popular and iconic dish in Japan, he said. During lunch at the middle school and high school at the end of this week, Sugimura will be serving Japanese fried chicken bowls, which he said is probably the second-most popular dish in Japan.

"So they're getting a really good sample of what Japanese food is about," he said.

Taher Inc. is the management company that oversees food service across the FDCSD.

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