Prince Rupert chef pens Japanese culinary book

Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board photographer Mike Ambach and writer Avi Sternberg celebrated the release of the book on Saturday.  - Martina Perry photo
Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board photographer Mike Ambach and writer Avi Sternberg celebrated the release of the book on Saturday.
— image credit: Martina Perry photo

A prominent Prince Rupert chef shares his journey to Japanese culinary art success in Muskeg Press' forth book, Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board, released over the weekend.

Avi Sternberg, who is head chef of Java Japanese Bistro and Cafe, wrote the book about his progression as a culinary artist, from his realization that he wanted to specialize in Japanese cuisine through to his experience at Tsuji Ecole Culinaire in Osaka, one of Japan's most prestigious cooking school.

The book was shaped by writings Sternberg did while he was training overseas.

"The lessons the senior chefs were teaching me were incredible. I took a step outside my daily life and started writing a journal," he said, adding his wife suggested he turn his journal entries into a book.

Sternberg said Itamae includes stories and images revolving around the time he was guided into the world of Japanese cuisine.

"[I want] to communicate to the reader the important lessons and atmosphere of the training in Japan, and how it differs from what we have in North America. I try to explain the traditions of training in a strict, orthodox Japanese kitchen," he said.

Originally Sternberg planned to get into French cuisine while living in southern B.C., but became intrigued with Japanese cuisine after visiting a sushi restaurant in 2001, saying he was impressed with the sushi chef's knife skills.

Sternberg relocated to Japan later that year, spending his first few years in the country getting the required language proficiency to attend Tsuji Ecole Culinaire.

The chef said he will never forget how kind people were to him while he was getting his Kaiseki and Red Seal training in Osaka and considers some highlights to include becoming the first person to get a cultural study Visa in Osaka to study at the school, and receiving his poisonous blowfish license.

After completing six years of apprenticeship in Japan, Sternberg decided he wanted to return to British Columbia in 2009. He got a few job offers in Vancouver, as well as an offer from Opa Sushi in Prince Rupert.

"I was really impressed that Opa used the freshest fish," he said.

Sternberg was recently hired as head chef of CARGO Kitchen and Bar which will be opening in the old Dave's Oyster Bar location sometime soon.

Along with Sternberg's story,the book also includes 27 of his recipes.

"These recipes are a combination of traditional cooking methods and recipes applied to the ingredients we have locally," he said.

"Avi learned these recipes through hard work and resourcefulness. Reading the stories gives an extra layer of flavour to the recipes at the end of the book," Chris Armstrong, owner of Muskeg Press, said.

Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board also includes 150 pictures taken by Prince Rupert photographer Mike Ambach of Japan and the chef's dishes.

Ambach and Sternberg travelled to Japan together in February, returning to Sternberg's training grounds to take photos and give readers a feel of the difference in atmosphere in the country.

"Mike has a great way of catching the light and setting up his photos in unique compositions ... Itamae could also be seen as an exhibit of page after page of great photography," said Armstrong.

The release of the book was celebrated at a book launch at Java Bistro on Saturday, with Sternberg, Ambach and Armstrong all in attendance.

Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board can be purchased on the book's website, and will be available in a variety of bookstores and retail stores in December.

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