Hidemi Sugino (Tokyo) – Mousse Cake Master
Down an anonymous alley, just above Ginza, the obsessive line up early to nab a mythical mousse cake – “the best in the world” – one man bakes as many cakes as he feels necessary for the day. He then calls it a day – the freedom of being great. The cake is not guaranteed past eleven so the necessary strategy is arriving early.
Thirty minutes before opening, I was the second person in line; fifteen deep with fifteen minutes to go; and an easy thirty people by opening time – go early – and scout the location out the day before. A five minute speech is rehearsed for the line, in Japanese, before the doors open; presumably “the rules” – including, but not obviously limited to, no photos, six per person, with some cakes only offered for the sit-down cafe. I know those rules – because I tried to break each one.
No time to lounge – Sushi Mizutani was an hour away – grab, go, and devour – which is an injustice to this genius. The line is slow and perplexing as it snakes around the small room. The shopkeepers operate on a 17th century timetable. Sushi Mizutani, twenty minutes away, was ticking closer and closer with each deliberate, and seemingly choreographed, movement involved in packaging the cakes. Greatest cakes, great sushi, little time, and smaller stomach (after the previous night’s Koju meal) – too much anxiety too early in the morning.
The cakes are spectacular, unlike anything I’ve had, every bit worth getting in line early. The texture is ethereal, “as light as air”, and yet, out of that nothingness, potent and vibrant flavors. The flavors are strong but well integrated, more classical than, say, the rock’n'roll stylings of a Pierre Herme. They fulfill that American stereotype of the Japanese – taking something “Western” – and perfecting it.
Eat That Yellow Snow has an obsessive post on Hidemi Sugino, the man, and a thoroughly detailed analysis of the cakes, complete with illustrations and cross-sections of their interiors – the reason we read blogs.