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Food: Sushi isn't just about raw fish. Sometimes it isn't even about fish

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Laura Heryadi sees it all the time: People come into her restaurant, Indo in Pawleys Island, and say they don’t like sushi. They’re only there because the person they’re with wanted to come in, they tell her.

She scrunches up her nose like a child faced with a plateful of something loathsome as she mimics the expressions she sees on their faces.

Usually the problem is they have a misconception about what sushi is.

“They automatically think it’s raw fish,” said Heryadi, who is the restaurant’s owner as well as its executive chef.

She always takes the time to explain to them that, while sushi can be made with raw fish, a lot of it isn’t. It can be made with cooked fish, crab, shrimp, scallops or even steak. Or it can be made without any meat at all.

Melissa Garcia, the sushi chef at Salt Water Creek Café in Murrells Inlet, recalled how one of her specialty rolls, the Johnnie roll, made with crab, lobster, scallions and filet mignon won over one of her male customers. He came in with his girlfriend, who complained she rarely got to go to sushi restaurants because he didn’t like them.

The Johnnie roll solved that problem in a blink. It’s one of Garcia’s most popular, she said.

Indo is known for its Godfather roll, which features spicy cooked salmon, cream cheese and asparagus, tempura style topped with baked scallops.

Heryadi starts the most reluctant of beginners out with something very basic, such as a California roll — cucumber, crab meat and avocado wrapped in rice. Just about every restaurant that serves sushi has a California roll.

“I let them calm down and see what goes in it,” she said. “I show them all the ingredients and they watch while I put it together for them to try.”

The reaction is almost always surprised pleasure.

“After that, they’re addicted,” Heryadi said. “They come in like twice a week and say, ‘it’s all your fault, Laura.’ ”

Even kids end up loving it, she said.

Garcia said she loves to experiment when it comes to her sushi menu and that’s something a lot of her regular customers look forward to. Before coming to Georgetown County, she worked in a restaurant in Las Vegas that specialized in Hawaiian cuisine and had a Japanese manager. Mix those influences with the fact that she is Hispanic and grew up in Guatemala and it makes for some interesting, mouth-watering fusion dishes.

A sushi chef for eight years, she has only worked at Salt Water Creek for about six months, but already she has a loyal local following.

“A lot of people know me already and they phone or text to see if I’m here because they want to try something different,” Garcia said. “Some just come in and don’t ask for a sushi menu, but say ‘what are you going to make for me today?’ ”

Sometimes she has something special for the day. Other times she’ll invent something completely new while the customer watches.

For Valentine’s Day she had a hit with a sushi roll she made with spinach, shrimp tempura and mango, topping it off with fresh tuna and strawberries. She then shaped them into hearts in honor of the holiday. The sweet flavor made it almost more dessert than dinner.

Heryadi also customizes sushi for her customers. She has been a sushi chef for 17 years, nearly a decade of that in Georgetown and Horry counties.

One of the real tricks to making top rate sushi is making the meal about more than taste. Presentation is a huge part it, turning sushi making into an art form.

“You have to be so precise with everything you do. It’s crazy,” said Joe McHone, who is training under Garcia to be a sushi chef. “Making sushi is so completely different from everything else.”

Culinary school didn’t even begin to touch on all he needs to know to be a sushi chef, he added.

Indo offers classes on the weekends that teach basics of sushi making. The classes last 2 hours, are completely hands-on and can be scheduled by appointment. The $75 fee covers a book students get to take home, as well as the food and other materials used during the session.

“I believe everybody can make sushi,” Heryadi said.

As to how good they become at making sushi, she said that depends on how much passion they have for it and how much time and effort they’re willing to devote.

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