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Morimoto’s Sushi Master: a familiar format elevated by Morimoto’s playful presence

Morimoto’s Sushi Master: a familiar format elevated by Morimoto’s playful presence
Morimoto judges a challenge during Morimoto's Sushi Master (Photo by Roku Channel)

Sushi has never been the star of a culinary competition before, as Morimoto’s Sushi Master tells us. Highlighting such a globally popular cuisine is long overdue.

Still, I’d rather have waited until now than been subjected to a show without Masaharu Morimoto, who singularly makes this Roku Channel show worth watching. (All six episodes are now streaming free.)

While the cuisine may be new to reality TV, the setup for this competition is, like so many cooking competitions, nothing new. When its logo appears on screen, it even uses a knife sound cue that sounds identical to the one Top Chef has been using for 20 seasons.

On a set designed by Big Brother set designer Scott Storey that resembles a dark sushi restaurant, the chefs work at stations that look like they might have been lifted from an upscale eatery.

Each episode has two rounds, followed by an elimination. First up is the Ikouze Challenge, in which they’re judged on their technical abilities, and then the Kesshou Challenge, in which the chef’s creativity is the focus.

Four people standing in a row, facing to the left; the first two have their hands behind them, the second two have their hands in front of them
Morimoto’s Sushi Master head judge Masaharu Morimoto, host Lyrica Okano, and judges Kenji Lopez-Alt and Dakota Weiss (Photo by Roku Channel)

Actor Lyrica Okano, from Hulu’s Runaways, hosts, bantering with judges Dakota Weiss (who you may recognize from Top Chef Texas) and Kenji López-Alt (a writer and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science). Some of that banter is useful information; some of it is nonsense exposition for things we are watching.

The contestants may be also familiar: Debbie Lee was a finalist on The Next Food Network Star season 5, while Frances Tariga-Weshnak was on Top Chef California and Cutthroat Kitchen. Two of the other chef contestants are friends.

At least one of the contestants seems to think they’re on The Great British Bake Off, being helpful and blanketing themselves in emotions for one another.

Another, despite his Michelin star, is immediately an insecure villain, calling out another contestant for a perceived violation of the rules, and later refusing a request to taste something that was complimented by the judges.

Meanwhile, the editing tries to eek out reactions from us by cutting to surprised or terrified expressions.

The one thing that elevates Morimoto’s Sushi Master and makes it more than just a competent, average competition is Morimoto himself. He’s an absolute delight.

A close-up of a person wearing glasses and a scarf, with dramatic lighting behind them
Masaharu Morimoto, star of Roku Channel’s Morimoto’s Sushi Master

“This is my kitchen,” original Iron Chef Morimoto tells the six contestants at the start of the first episode. “Sushi has a lot of rules. I know sushi rules. Let’s break sushi rules. I trust you guys’ skill.”

What more could you ask for in icon in his field, never mind a head judge of a cooking competition?

He ranges from strict standards-bearer, declaring one contestant has earned a zero, to mischievous friend.

It’s clear Morimoto is rooting for the contestants while also holding them to high standards.

A sushi chef works while another chef watches
Morimoto watches Venoy, a contestant on his new competition, during a challenge

During the first round, Morimoto walks around the contestants’ stations. Unlike Paul and Prue walking around and offering just judgmental glare, Morimoto asks questions, gives light advice, and expresses concern.

He’s also, at the appropriate times, playful, fanning contestants in the first challenge and blotting the sweat off someone’s forehead.

It’s all wonderful.

I want more of that, and I just do not understand why Morimoto disappears sometimes. He doesn’t judge the first-round cooking in all the episodes, for example.

His name’s right there in the title, and the show should use him more. While he keeps the focus on the contestants and their food, Morimoto’s Sushi Master works best when Morimoto is on screen.

Morimoto’s Sushi Master

Morimoto elevates his own competition and makes it a fun watch. B

What works for me:

  • Morimoto interacting with the contestants
  • A focus on sushi

What could be better:

  • Even more of Morimoto
  • The expository narration from the host and judge(s)
  • The over-reliance on reaction shots to create drama

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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