Physicist’s ice creams wow chefs in London

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

A Japanese woman whose ice cream was praised by a Michelin-starred chef during a popular British cooking competition is now bringing a range of Japanese-themed flavors to Londoners.

Aki Matsushima found fame after reaching the latter stages of the BBC’s MasterChef competition — an amateur cooking contest watched by millions every week.

On the last meal she prepared, Matsushima, 25, wowed judge Michel Roux Jr. with her sticky toffee pudding and miso ice cream.

Matsushima, who is currently working on a doctorate in quantum physics at London University, dramatically added frigid liquid nitrogen to her ice cream to make it smoother.

Her stint on the program proved so successful that afterward she was inundated with offers — including an opportunity to collaborate with an Italian ice cream parlor in London.

Working with Gino Gelato, Matsushima has been able to design a range of ice cream flavors inspired by her homeland.

In addition to the miso ice cream so celebrated on MasterChef, she has created the following blends: “kinako” (soybean flour) and molasses, wasabi and chocolate, plum wine honey sorbet, red miso and caramel, white miso and walnut, and green tea white chocolate “stracciatella.”

Matsushima thinks that while some of the combinations might be found in Japan, they are rare to nonexistent in London, where more common Japanese flavors such as green tea and black sesame are becoming more popular.

“We held a Japan day at the ice cream parlor recently and we had people queuing around the block,” Matsushima said.

“The plum wine (“umeshu”) sorbet was voted the most popular, followed by the white miso and walnut, while the wasabi and chocolate divided opinion.

“There’s nowhere in London that has such an extensive range of Japanese-themed ice creams.”

She said miso — which is a mixture of fermented rice, barley and/or soybeans — is traditionally used in savory dishes and isn’t for everyone. But it has proved popular in ice cream, where brown sugar is added.

Speaking about her use of liquid nitrogen on the TV show, she said, “When you add it to the ice cream mixture, it evaporates instantly and creates a white mist. It cools the ice cream really quickly, creating smaller ice crystals and making the ice cream smoother.”

During the program series, Matsushima and her fellow contestants had to cook a variety of dishes for small and large parties.

She made several Japanese meals during the program and also says she gleaned much from the professional chefs who passed advice on to contestants.

After becoming a minicelebrity, Matsushima is now content to focus on her studies.

But her interest in cooking has also prompted her to work with a company to design Japanese precooked meals.

Matsushima lived in Tokyo until she was 3 but now lives in London with her parents, who own a Japanese restaurant in London.