COURTESY HEIDI HAMAMURA
Heidi Hamamura is competing in the World Food Championships next month.
If you've been fortunate enough to score one of Heidi Hamamura's outrageously delicious sushi platters over the past year, you know she should win all the awards for her skills. Next week, she's looking to make that official as she represents St. Louis in the World Food Championships in Dallas, Texas, where she will be showcasing her talents in the competition's seafood category.
The World Food Championships, which brings together chefs from across the country to compete in the industry's largest food sport event, is more than just a chance to win bragging rights and prize money; since its founding in 2012, the event has served as a springboard for its competitors who have gone on to receive national recognition for their personal brands, including television shows.
However, for Hamamura, making her city proud is what's fueling her drive to win.
"There are people from 42 different countries competing," Hamamura says. "We are representing under seafood, and I don't want to let St. Louis down."
A rising star in the St. Louis culinary scene who has worked everywhere from Hiro Asian Kitchen to Elaia, Hamamura has most recently spent time at the St. Louis Club where she has been given free reign to experiment with a wide variety of ingredients behind the sushi bar. When the club suspended operations because of the pandemic last year, she began catering, and developed a following for her stunning, special order sushi platters. Additionally, she has been working with her business partner, Jonathan Lorentzen, on the Japanese bar pop-up called Izakaya Club, which the pair hope to eventually open as a brick and mortar.
Now, though, Hamamura is focused on bringing home the gold at the Championships with the ingredient she knows best. As the daughter of the revered sushi chef Naomi "Hama" Hamamura, she takes seriously her role in carrying forth the family's culinary legacy and has come into her own, confident that her skills give her a competitive edge.
"A lot of people are doing a lot of different things, but no one has ever done sushi," Hamamura says. "The judges can only take one bite, and every single flavor component has to be in that. What can be more perfect than a piece of nigiri?"
Hamamura will be accompanied by a support team, consisting of pastry chef Cynthia Hule, whose resume includes Elaia, Vicia and the world famous Noma and Mirabelle in Denmark, as well as Mad Art Gallery's Ron Buechele. Pepe Kehm, chef and owner of the Clayton eatery Peno, rounds out the team as its captain, and as Hamamura describes, "hype man."
"I believe in investing in people — not about winning but going to have a good time, represent and be the best that you can be," Kehm says. "I feel that Heidi is one of the best chefs in town because she has so much diversity beyond sushi. This whole team has diversity, and it's going to be fun."
To raise funds for the costs associated with competing, Hamamura and Kehm are putting together different three different sponsorship packages
for their supporters, all of which center around a pop-up dinner at Mad Art Gallery in late November. Donations in any amount outside of the formal sponsorship packages are also being accepted through Peno.
As for what happens if she wins, Hamamura teases that she and Kehm have some great ideas in the works and are hoping for that $100K prize money to bring them to life.
"Me and Pepe have some big plans," she hints.
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