Canada’s pioneer of Japanese foods
As the founder of Ocean Food Company, Joe Nishikaze has been a force in bringing Japanese foods to Canada—from imitation crab to gelato in traditionally Japanese flavours….
In 1980, Joe Nishikaze returned to Canada with a burning ambition. He’d just spent a year in Japan studying how to make kamaboko—a traditional Japanese fish sausage—and he wanted to sell it here. It did not go well.
“Fish cakes were not so much acceptable,” he says. While he was able to sell to small Japanese supermarkets, he couldn’t take off in the mainstream. Despite numerous sampling dem- onstrations at chains like Loblaws and A&P, the Canadian palate just wasn’t ready for some- thing as unique as kamaboko.
But four years later, Nishikaze learned about the latest fad in California: kanikama, or imitation crab. He flew out to the U.S., learned how they were making kanikama and brought the manu- facturing process back to Canada, making Ocean Food the first company in the country to sell imitation crab. Now the mainstream markets took notice. Business finally started to boom and by 1990, Ocean Food had gone international, supplying kanikama to companies in the U.S. Today, Ocean Food’s products can be found at places like Longo’s and Highland Farms, as well as Asian specialty food stores like T&T Supermarket.
Kamaboko: Low in cholesterol and trans fat
What exactly are kamaboko and kanikama? It all starts with surimi: a traditional Japanese fish paste made from ground fish and usually mixed with egg whites, salt, sugar and other Japanese seasonings like sake. That paste is used to create many different foods such as kamaboko, most famously depicted as a roll-shaped fish cake, and kanikama, sometimes known as crab sticks.
Surimi foods can be used in anything from sushi to pasta. Low in fat and cholesterol, it can be a healthier alternative to a lot of other ready-to-serve options like chicken nuggets or hamburger patties, though surimi has been criticized for being high in sodium. But for budding sushi chefs, or for making crab cakes without the usual high price that goes with it, kanikama is your best bet. Ocean Food’s kamikama is fresh, sweet and soft in texture—not overly “fishy.” Check out their website for kanikama and kamaboko recipes like Fish Cake Stir Fry and Grilled Fish Cake with Butter Sauce.
“One of the benefits of being the only manufacturer of kanikama [in Canada] is that we can always make it fresh,” says Daniel Leung, manager at Ocean Food. Though they are a frozen and refrigerated food manufacturer, Leung says that at the heart of the company is a philosophy of eating clean. One of their selling points is that their products have few preservatives. At Ocean Food, a lot of effort goes into making sure everything is properly pasteurized and sterilized. They are HACCP (Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points) registered and regulated by the FDA. “If a company is able to take care of those things, you don’t need a lot of preservatives,” says Leung.
Ocean Food’s kanikama products are sold under four labels: Ocean Deli, Sushi Deli, Sea Deli and Neptune’s Treasure. Most notable is their Sushi Deli line, which is refrigerated, not frozen, and has no preservatives, trans fats or MSG. Under their subsidiary JC Creative Foods, they also have a line of Japanese salad dressings and vinaigrettes in flavours like ginger and miso.
When it comes to Japanese food innovations, Leung touts Nishikaze as something of a visionary. “I’d suggest something and Joe would say, ‘Oh, I tried that ten years ago,’” says Leung. So what’s next? The latest innovation to come out of Ocean Food is Fumi Ice, born from Nishikaze’s desire to create a nutrient-rich sea-kelp ice cream. Fumi Ice is a dairy-free and gluten-free gelato, great for vegans. It is made with non-GMO soybeans. Though the kelp flavour hasn’t come to pass, the company hasn’t given up hope. “Ten years ago, seaweed in ice cream would not be acceptable at all. Now there might be a chance,” says Leung. In the meantime, Fumi Ice is available in four unique flavours: strawberry mint, matcha green tea, double-blend mango and roasted white sesame. The matcha green tea gelato is rich and delicious with no chemical aftertaste, while the double-blend mango is slightly tart and refreshing. Fumi Ice can be found at T&T Supermarket.
From imitation crab to Japanese gelato, Joe Nishikaze has made it one of his company’s mandates to constantly innovate, and he continues to bring original foods to the Canadian market.
For more info on Joe Nishikaze, visit oceanfood.ca
Joe Nishikaze was born in Wakayama, Japan. He migrated to Canada in 1969 and worked as a machinery engineer. In 1980 he founded Ocean Food Company, and he was the first to bring kanikama (surimi crab) to Canada. He currently lives in Toronto and is excitedly working on his next food innovation.