Back in 1971, sushi wasn't popular at all here in North America. Consumers weren't quite ready yet to fully dive into a meal consisting of raw fish and seaweed. Vancouver sushi chef Hidekazu Tojo realized this, and developed a sushi roll that's become the most recognized roll in Canadian and American sushi restaurants today: California Rolls.
Chef Tojo made the California Roll as a way to hide the seaweed that normally was on the outside of traditional sushi rolls and draw more people to eat his food. Great Big Story reports that he did get some backlash in Japan for the new method. However, it resonated well with Canadian consumers, especially when Chef Tojo began incorporating ingredients more suitable to North American tastebuds.
By making a sushi roll out of cooked crab (or surimi, an imitation crab product made out of fish), cucumber, and avocado, Chef Tojo helped turn a lot of people on to eating sushi. His creation was initially called the Inside-Out Roll, but allegedly gained its California Roll name after becoming extremely popular with Los Angeles tourists that dined at his Vancouver restaurant.
The California Roll quickly became a gateway for those foreign to Japan to try and fall in love with sushi. For his work, Chef Tojo was named a goodwill ambassador to Japanese cuisine last year by Japan's ministry of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
If it weren't for Chef Tojo, we may not just have the California Roll, we may not also have the plethora of sushi and Japanese food options available to us today, as it may have never gotten off the ground. Thus, we have this Canadian sushi chef to thank for his contributions to Japanese cuisine's popularity, and for his delicious California Rolls.