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How Chef John Hashimoto keeps innovation rolling at Bento Sushi

The director of product development comes up with on-trend menu creations, while keeping a focus on sustainability and customer wellness

After graduating from the culinary program at George Brown College in 2000, John Hashimoto worked as a chef at various Toronto restaurants and hotels before moving on to product development for companies including Loblaw. In 2015, he became director of product development at Bento Sushi, where he keeps his finger on the pulse of changing consumer tastes and the environmental sustainability movement.

John Hashimoto: “The biggest portion of my work revolves around innovation. For me, innovation comes from a few different areas. There’s innovation when you’re creating a new recipe, but innovation can also come from utilizing what we already have and presenting it to the customer in a new format, like personalized sushi burritos and poké bowls.

For me, sushi has been in the world of nigiri and maki for the longest time. And the younger generation is always looking for a new food experience and a different way of customizing their products. So, with the burritos and poké bowls, the customers led that innovation drive.

Another area of innovation I’m working on is developing a new product line for our Pan-Asia Fresh brand which supplies longer life products to grocery stores, schools, daycare services, airlines and food service businesses.

Bento Sushi, available in grocery stores and our retail stores, uses raw fish with a single-day shelf life whereas Pan-Asia Fresh products don’t contain raw fish and stay fresh for longer. This way, we can ensure quality, taste and appearance are never compromised for either brand.”

One of the more interesting products I’m working on now is a fresh spring roll made with rice paper. Typically, this product dries out very fast—within a day. So, we’ve been working with different ingredients to try to give that a longer shelf life.

In the food industry, I think all product developers have a responsibility beyond the obvious; we need to be wary and knowledgeable about the ingredients we use, from both a sustainability perspective and a customer health and wellness perspective.

Sustainability is about feeding the world—not just people, but especially in seafood, balancing populations and sustaining ecosystems. For me, working with or finding new suppliers that can help our business find the balance between being sustainable and keeping costs affordable is critical for us.

With regard to customer health and wellness, I believe all developers must think about what we are feeding our populations. I often ask myself, ‘Would I feed this to kids? Does this impact someone’s long-term health?’ Of course, making the best products is the key to what we do, but taking into consideration customer health and wellness is part of the responsibility.

In both cases, these areas are in constant change, so we have to adapt to these changing needs to develop what is best for everyone. I know this is achievable, and I will continue to challenge our industry to grow beyond the status quo.

My advice to young people is: have the right attitude. Having a good attitude in the workplace will help you achieve what you’ve always wanted to, and more. If you have a good attitude, people are more prone to accepting your ideas and even you become more prone to accepting ideas.

Along the same vein, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. As you gain experience, you’ll know what you’re capable of, but you’ll also push yourself beyond that.

When you look at successful individuals, they typically don’t listen to the status quo because those are just limits that people put on themselves. Those who are great usually do things that have never been done before.”—As told to Rebecca Harris

Videography and photography by Maggie Naylor. Makeup and hair by Sophie Hsin for M.A.C. Cosmetics/Kevin Murphy/Plutino Group.