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  • Creative cuisine: Yujia Hu and his edible artwork.
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    Creative cuisine: Yujia Hu and his edible artwork.

    The Milanese sushi master Yujia Hu transforms fish, rice and seaweed into works of art. His “shoe-shi” creations turned him into an Instagram celebrity practically overnight.

    Photos: Thorsten Doerk | Text: Ole Zimmer

Yujia Hu: Milanese sushi master.

Packed bumper to bumper, the cars throng the streets of Milan, double parking, honking, shoving. And yet they are always making headway. The ostensible chaos is a sophisticated choreography that is always about keeping the traffic moving. Yujia Hu drifts along with the traffic in the Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Cabriolet, carried by the flow and enjoying himself. “Somehow it always works out,” says Hu. When in doubt, you just sit back, leave a bit of space and give the others some breathing room. That’s how everyone arrives faster in the end. Actually, says Hu, that’s a nice metaphor for the Italian way of life.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Cabriolet:
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 8,9–8,8 l/100 km;
CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 204–200 g/km.1

Yujia Hu and the Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Cabriolet.
Yujia Hu and his edible artwork: shoe-shi.

Weekly market.

The young Milanese man with Chinese ancestry is on his way to the weekly market on the Via Bartolomeo Eustachi. Every Tuesday, a modest but pleasant – and above all colourful – farrago springs up, half on the sidewalk, half on the street. At the more than 30 stalls there are fruits, vegetables, clothes, meat and poultry, along with olives and bric-a-brac like that of a cheapjack. Crucial for Hu is the fresh fish sold opposite the Bao Bar, near the Via Achille Maiocchi intersection. Barbel, sardines, a variety of shellfish, loup de mer, gamberi rossi and squid lie on the three-by-five-metre-wide ice heap in front of Stefano the fishmonger. The bacalao, dried and salted cod, exudes its intense aroma. Hu holds a hefty piece of tuna fillet in his hands, checks its freshness, firmness, grain and colour – and is satisfied. Fresh fish plays an important role in his life. Because Hu is a sushi master.

  • Creative cuisine: Yujia Hu and his edible artwork.

Unique creations.

Hu has made a name for himself with his very unique creations, because he uses his sushi craftsmanship to push the limits of edible art. On Instagram the young itamae is celebrated around the world for his finger food, which he forms into the shape of cult sneakers, famous paintings, actors and artists. He shows that anything can be turned into art, even simple sashimi, rice, strategically placed strips of seaweed and maybe a hint of avocado. On the wall of his restaurant hang “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, portraits by Emil Nolde, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol – all made out of sushi. And shoes and streetwear over and over again. The attention to detail that Hu exhibits is astounding.

Meanwhile, the vendors at the market pause the tiny sales exhibition they are putting on here for their customers. They admire the photos of Hu’s latest creations and talk shop over the items that lay spread out before them on the ice. “I often shop at the wholesale store as well. But that’s different. At the market, you meet the vendors in person, chat and discuss what’s going on where, where to get the best fish and where you might come across bottlenecks,” Hu says. And that’s exactly what it’s always all about: the perfect product, freshly caught or harvested. In Milan, that’s easier than you might think. The city is the most important shipping hub for fresh food in the whole of northern Italy, and not even on the coast does the fish arrive at the market as quickly as it does here.

Yujia Hu and his edible artwork: shoe-shi.

How it began...

Hu began making the shoes to generate publicity for the family restaurant, Sakana Sushi. The former pizzeria is located in the Lorenteggio district, west of the city centre. Over the years, it has been repeatedly renovated and rebuilt. The result is a peculiar mix: low Japanese tables with cushions sit under stereotypical Italian arches made of brick, paper lamps illuminate intimate niches made of sturdy dark wood with thin curtains. To this day, the old wood-fired oven from the previous owners is there in the room, and even a supply of dry beech wood is still at the ready. Hu has made sushi for ten years. What matters most? Sure, the freshest fish you can imagine – salmon from Norway, tuna from the Pacific, each not even a day old when they land in Milan. And of course the rice. It has to have exactly the right consistency, not too sticky and not too loose. It’s as if Hu’s hands have evolved sensors for the perfect consistency. To do so, he trained for a long time. “At the beginning of my apprenticeship, for more than half a year, I did nothing but mold rice balls for hours on end every single day.”

Shoe-shi.

When Hu recounts his path to “shoe-shi”, he hesitates. Because this avid basketball player actually had other plans. He wanted to become an artist and had studied at the Liceo Artistico Umberto Boccioni in Milan. But then his parents called. They needed help with their new restaurant. “There are decisions you can’t make any other way,” says Hu. Family always comes first. So, for the time being, that meant sushi. However, Hu’s creativity could not be contained, so he simply started making art out of sushi in his free time.

In the meantime, more than 40,000 followers on Instagram are watching how he uses fresh ingredients to create his ephemeral and delicious works of art. His girlfriend Angela, who normally works in Milan in the fashion industry, handles requests from all over the world. There are a surprising number of people who want to swap ideas with Hu and want to eat an original shoe-shi themselves. “Recently, there was an Australian here who made an extra detour through Milan on his trip to order his favourite shoe,” says Hu.

Yujia Hu and his edible artwork: shoe-shi.

New challenges.

Forming a shoe and reproducing it in detail is a delicate affair. Hu cuts the finest strips of fresh salmon, shaves hair-thin pieces from the seaweed sheets with a sharp knife. Hu has since become a star on social media. However, his plan for advertising the restaurant has only been half-realised. More and more foreign tourists are indeed coming to Sakana, but they are only the die-hard fans. For others, the location in Lorenteggio, outside the city centre, isn’t very appealing. And so the days of Sakana Sushi will likely soon be numbered. Maintaining the large shop is just no longer worth it. Above all, Hu is looking for new challenges. For one thing, he wants to make his sushi art less ephemeral. He wants to evolve, to spend less time reproducing and more time creating his own work. And he wants to see how his art is received elsewhere. Because, for someone who delights the entire world via Instagram, a suburb of Milan will quickly become too small. Berlin is one such dream destination. “I think the people there are more open, more likely to engage in experimentation,” says Hu.

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 10.12.2018.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

2 Die angegebenen Werte sind die „gemessenen NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 2 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153, die im Einklang mit Anhang XII der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 692/2008 ermittelt wurden. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Aufgrund gesetzlicher Änderungen der maßgeblichen Prüfverfahren können in der für die Fahrzeugzulassung und ggf. Kfz-Steuer maßgeblichen Übereinstimmungsbescheinigung des Fahrzeugs höhere Werte eingetragen sein. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch und die CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.