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A Chat With Koji Terano


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Master sushi chef Koji Terano will be joining us this week for a chat on all things sushi. Please feel free to begin asking questions now.

I talked with Koji last night and he originally thought this might have been a real-time chat. He cringed, and said, "Uh... let me practice a little bit first." I then reassured him that he could reply at his leisure, and gave him my cell phone number to bail him out of technical crises. "What time do you go to sleep," he asked, adding, "I usually get home from work around 1 AM." Eek.

Koji was born in Osaka in 1975, and began his culinary training when he was 18 years old at Gorohachi - a sushi and Japanese restaurant. After four years there, he responded to an advertisement for Sushi-Ko in 1997, and moved to Washington, DC. In 2002, he was promoted to head chef, and since then has begun attracting local and national attention. Click here to read some postings about Koji and Sushi-Ko, and click here to see a picture of Koji wedged between Jamie Leeds and Fabio Trabocchi.

Koji, thank you very much for joining us here, and I'd like to start off with an easy question (we'll save the difficult ones for later): why is it so difficult to find good sushi rice in sushi restaurants? Isn't sushi rice a relatively simple thing that can be executed the same way over-and-over?

And thanks again for doing this!

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I ate at quality sushi bars in Los Angeles for a number of years before coming to DC. Even in a neighborhood place in Santa Monica, there was a chef who took great pride in making special rolls-- who used his knife to turn a cucumber into a single long, thin sheet and use that as a wrapper for a beautiful sweet shrimp roll that looked like a stained glass window when it was cut. Here in DC, even at Sushi-Ko, I have yet to find a chef who will make unique rolls like this. The response I usually get is that it takes too much time. It seems to me that at least part of the problem is that they are too busy cranking out platters of California rolls and such for the tables, instead of focusing on the folks at the sushi bar, who are ordering a piece or two at a time. Is that really all it is? Even if they had the time, do they have the skill?

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Master sushi chef Koji Terano will be joining us this week for a chat on all things sushi.  Please feel free to begin asking questions now.

I talked with Koji last night and he originally thought this might have been a real-time chat.  He cringed, and said, "Uh... let me practice a little bit first."  I then reassured him that he could reply at his leisure, and gave him my cell phone number to bail him out of technical crises.  "What time do you go to sleep," he asked, adding, "I usually get home from work around 1 AM."  Eek.

Koji was born in Osaka in 1975, and began his culinary training when he was 18 years old at Gorohachi - a sushi and Japanese restaurant.  After four years there, he responded to an advertisement for Sushi-Ko in 1997, and moved to Washington, DC.  In 2002, he was promoted to head chef, and since then has begun attracting local and national attention.  Click here to read some postings about Koji and Sushi-Ko, and click here to see a picture of Koji wedged between Jamie Leeds and Fabio Trabocchi.

Koji, thank you very much for joining us here, and I'd like to start off with an easy question (we'll save the difficult ones for later):  why is it so difficult to find good sushi rice in sushi restaurants?  Isn't sushi rice a relatively simple thing that can be executed the same way over-and-over? 

And thanks again for doing this!

Hi Don.

Thank you very much for exciting opportunity! I'm ready for it with huge dictionary, and any questions are welcome.

I think all sushi restaurants have different rice recipe without chain, also there are so many kinds of rice available in market. In my case, I trid 3~4 brands of top of the line to pick current one. I like to prepare sushi rice little harder, less sugar (too much sugar kills original sweetness of rice) and keep them warm then I can make contrast of texture, temperature and taste between rice and fish for piece of nigiri. High quality products make huge difference from least expensive stuff what ever rice, vinegar, seaweed and everything.

PS. Some people talking about "Why sushi restaurant use same sushi rice for all kind of fish?" It means each type of fish must have best mariage with different taste of rice. It will be fun to figure out, but long way.

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A fun, easy question - what is YOUR favorite thing to have when you eat sushi? And along the same lines, what do you think is the most creative, best type of roll you make?

I love sushi and I'm always looking for new ideas to order things "off menu."

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Hi Koji.

It's great to have you here!

I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the traditional way of eating sushi and acceptable manners. For example, I don't know how much this has to do with tradition -maybe just etiquette-but I hate when I see people eat sushi in more than one bite. Even if you have a really tiny mouth and a huge piece of sushi, it should be eaten in one bite, right? :)

How is the fish meant to be dipped in the soy sauce? I see people do it differently everywhere. My impression has been rice-side up (well, I think Don Rockwell told me so).

As for wasabi, how much is really meant to be used? Sometimes I see people with a mucky soup of wasabi and soy sauce in front of them and it makes me cringe.

Finally, what's a roll you have invented and what have you named it?

I truly appreciate your talent and artistry.

Thanks again for chatting!

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I ate at quality sushi bars in Los Angeles for a number of years before coming to DC. Even in a neighborhood place in Santa Monica, there was a chef who took great pride in making special rolls-- who used his knife to turn a cucumber into a single long, thin sheet and use that as a wrapper for a beautiful sweet shrimp roll that looked like a stained glass window when it was cut. Here in DC, even at Sushi-Ko, I have yet to find a chef who will make unique rolls like this.  The response I usually get is that it takes too much time. It seems to me that at least part of the problem is that they are too busy cranking out platters of California rolls and such for the tables, instead of focusing on the folks at the sushi bar, who are ordering a piece or two at a time. Is that really all it is? Even if they had the time, do they have the skill?

Thank you for your question.

Making a thin long single sheet of vegetable (mostly made by daikon radish or cucumber) is least skill requiered to cooks in Japanese cuisine, but honestly some people are not good at making it in my team. If you order those kind of roll in rush hour, I say give me a time. But we're glad to hear the request from customer

even in busy time, so feel free to talk to chefs for request when you seat at sushi bar in any restaurant. Nomally it takes 5 to 10 minutes to serve your favorite roll without rush hour.

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Hi chef, can you give us some behind the scenes insight into how you source your fish.  How many vendors do you have?  How do you ensure you are getting the best quality?  Thanks

Hi Tweaked.

So far I have 5 venders for seafood and I'm planning to open another account with new company. When I start business, I go to wear house to see their jobs and try some samples to check quality and notify about returning and exchanging for disappinted stuff.(This is most important part.)

I appreciate, the raw seafood quality is much better than before for restaurant. I used to order extra 2pc fish on each kind, then I pick best one and return all the rest because quality was not same all the time but They stopped business with us after a while. When I choose fish, I check about damage outside, smell, color of gills and eyes, and how firm the meat is.

The best way to keep whole fish in fresh is "IKE-JIME", get live fish then cut off back bone right behind a head and next to tail, insert a fine long wire into the hole that right under the back bone from tail to head to stop living activity completely, then it's possible to make rigormortis delay for keep meat in fresh extra 1~2days. The meat start to be aged after rigormortis untill. Also all the internal organs and gills must be removed for better result. This method works great with fish 2~3lbs and up like a flounder, jack fish and much more. It's sort of medically thing.(I'm sorry if you feel bad.)

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A fun, easy question - what is YOUR favorite thing to have when you eat sushi?  And along the same lines, what do you think is the most creative, best type of roll you make?

I love sushi and I'm always looking for new ideas to order things "off menu."

Hi Catincal.

My favorite?

For nigiri, I like lightly boiled octpus with nitsume (eel sauce), meat and scallop of orange clam, Japanese cockle clam with nitsume, half cooked CA sea urchin,

American sturgeon caviar with quail egg, engawa (part of flounder, meat above the fin bones) with fish liver or sea urchin, any kind of scallop with caviar, lightly grilled giant clam and everything in fish show case!

I'm crazy for the meat with texture (someboady say chewy) like a octpus and clams,especially each type of clams have nice flavor plus low calorie and high in nutrition. I love them.

For rolls, my best favorite is chopped fatty tuna with pickled radish and shiso, crispy fried marinated chicken roll, kanpyo (cooked dried squash) with avocado and tomate.

Some of these sushi are "off menu" and I have a lot of customer who request their

own creation roll, I enjoy them a lot!

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American sturgeon caviar with quail egg

This is one of my all time favorites as well. You prepared it for me once on a very special night I won't soon forget. Thank You.

Chef, I have a few questions. First, do you like natto and if yes what is your favorite preparation? Second, what do you think of the Americanization of sushi? Most restaurants serve slices of fish that are too big with no wasabi and little attention paid to the art that sushi preparation should be. What about sushi at the local grocery store, take out place, etc? Finally, what do you wish your diners knew about sushi?

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Hi Koji.

It's great to have you here!

I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the traditional way of eating sushi and acceptable manners. For example, I don't know how much this has to do with tradition -maybe just etiquette-but I hate when I see people eat sushi in more than one bite.  Even if you have a really tiny mouth and a huge piece of sushi, it should be eaten in one bite, right? :)

How is the fish meant to  be dipped in the soy sauce? I see people do it differently everywhere. My impression has been rice-side up (well, I think Don Rockwell told me so).

As for wasabi, how much is really meant to be used? Sometimes I see people with a mucky soup of wasabi and soy sauce  in front of them and it makes me cringe.

Finally, what's a roll you have invented and what have you named it?

I truly appreciate your talent and artistry.

Thanks again for chatting!

Thank you very much, I'm happy to do chat!

I usually use fingers to eat sushi with wet towel otherwise chop stick.

There are few things that I want everyboady to know, Rubbing chop sticks is not nice manner, I've never seen people rubbing chop stick at restaurant except noodle stand and cheap tavern in my country. Most of the tip of chop stick is polished and ready to use, Pointing by chop stick is rude too. I don't see people passing the food chop stick to chop stick each other, that's how we correct bones

at crematory of funeral ceremony in Japan.

When I have sushi, I dip fish side into the soy sauce (except piece with sea urchin

and fish roe) or ask chef to brush the sauce on to enjoy delicate fish flavor. When I need extra spicy, I put pinch of wasabi on fish side or ask chef to add more

wasabi for next course. It's OK for me people love to have sushi dipped with mixture of soy and wasabi, that's my wife's custom too. Everyboady enjoy sushi in their style, that's great!

I eat piece of sushi in one bite especially nigiri. I think piece of nigiri is not too big for one bite, and we can enjoy the balance of right amount rice and fish in a mouth, and I always ask chef for smaller rice for nigiri because I want fish and rice to vanish in same time from my mouth.

So far we have few kinds of new vegitable roll created by my sushi chefs. We can invent new roll any time and your request wellcom then put your name on it!

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This is one of my all time favorites as well.  You prepared it for me once on a very special night I won't soon forget.  Thank You.

Chef, I have a few questions.  First, do you like natto and if yes what is your favorite preparation?  Second, what do you think of the Americanization of sushi?  Most restaurants serve slices of fish that are too big with no wasabi and little attention paid to the art that sushi preparation should be.  What about sushi at the local grocery store, take out place, etc?  Finally, what do you wish your diners knew about sushi?

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed my favorite piece!

I love natto (fremented soy beans) a lot. I think natto is on of the highest nutrition

food! Natto is sold in frozen here so I defrost in fridge. (You can use microwave 20 seconds to defrost but natto become less sticky.) Mix up natto very well to make it sticky, add soy sauce and little bit sweet sake (If you like.) up to taste, then I chop small amount of kimuchee (Korean spicy pickled nappa cabbage) and mix into natto, put mixture over tho bowl of steamed rice. Yam! or add chunks of fresh

tuna into sauce added natto to make sushi hand roll is good, too.

There are so many different way to prepare sushi, I like sushi that has good balance of fish and rice amount, but on the other side some people focus on value of big piece of rice and fish, it depends on customer's requirement. I think it's right way to do, too so I don't deny it.

We stopped serving sushi in whole foods stores, but most of Japanese restaurant

offer carry out even one order of cucumber roll. I order carry out to any kinds of restaurant on my day off.

The number of Japanese restaurant keep increasing here, It's good! Customer has

lot of choice and All the restaurants have to brush up quality to survive.

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As much as I enjoyed the sushi at Sushi Ko I was also impressed by...for a lack of better term..."other" (non sushi) dishes off the menu. The dumplings were delightful, the seaweed salad delicious, eel dish, duck and I can't even remember what else we ordered...sorry too much sake!

Do you also oversee the non sushi portion of the menu? Is there any coordination between the sushi and non sushi items? How do these two areas of the menu fit together.

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Hello Chef - Thank you for joining us!

I was wondering if there is a particular "order" in which sushi is arranged on the serving platter? I think there is, but I'd love to hear from you about the thought that goes into arranging the pieces.

I tend to hop around and eat in no particular order, but I wonder if I'm missing out on enjoying the flavors of the fish by not following some sort of taste logic! Are milder fish supposed to be eaten first, stronger ones later? What about rolls? What order would you suggest a diner follow in eating sushi?

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As much as I enjoyed the sushi at Sushi Ko I was also impressed by...for a lack of better term..."other" (non sushi) dishes off the menu.  The dumplings were delightful, the seaweed salad delicious, eel dish, duck and I can't even remember what else we ordered...sorry too much sake! 

Do you also oversee the non sushi portion of the menu?  Is there any coordination between the sushi and non sushi items?  How do these two areas of the menu fit together.

Some sushi has delicate flavor,and most of the other dishes are over power. Here is my current order when we serve 5~6 course menu, first ball is small portion of hot appetizer for snack then sashimi style cold appetizer with vinaigrette as salad, clear broth soup to refresh mouth, sushi plate, main course and dessert. I like to make a chain of hot and cold so far, and refresh mouth before having delicate flavor of sushi. Eating slice of gari (pickled ginger) and a drop of water will be good refreshment, too.

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Hello Chef - Thank you for joining us!

I was wondering if there is a particular "order"  in which sushi is arranged on the serving platter?  I think there is, but I'd love to hear from you about the thought that goes into arranging the pieces. 

I tend to hop around and eat in no particular order, but I wonder if I'm missing out on enjoying the flavors of the fish by not following some sort of taste logic!  Are milder fish supposed to be eaten first, stronger ones later?  What about rolls?  What order would you suggest a diner follow in eating sushi?

Hi Goldenticket. Thank you for your question.

You got it. Milder fish first, stronger one later.

At sushi bar, some customer order chef's pick piece by piece.

I serve plain white fish first, then octpus, clams and scallop, another white fish with

topping, lean tuna or bonito, sea urchin or salmon roe, yellowtail family, buttery fatty tuna, eel or some rolls and sweet egg as dessert to finish. In this case I make

rolls at the end, because some rolls has more number of ingredients and taste more complexity than simple piece of nigiri. This is my suggestion for elegant stream.

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Koji,

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. There are many sushi restaurants in the Washington, DC area that are extremely popular and well-known. However, what places are serving good, quality sushi that most people do not know about? Since my wife and I live in the suburbs of Virginia, we are especially interested in places that are in northern Virginia, but we are willing to travel.

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Koji,

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. There are many sushi restaurants in the Washington, DC area that are extremely popular and well-known. However, what places are serving good, quality sushi that most people do not know about? Since my wife and I live in the suburbs of Virginia, we are especially interested in places that are in northern Virginia, but we are willing to travel.

Hi Pete.

I live in suburb, too so sometimes I don't want to pass Key bridge on my day off.

My best favorite Japanese place is "Blue Ocean." http://www.blueocean-sushi.com

I usually order "TEI-SHOKU" which is set menu, we have choice of entree (my personal favorite is broiled miso marinated cod fish and saut'ed ginger pork), bowl of rice, miso soup, couple kind of small appetizer and sashimi. It's very fair price, so I go there often. They also have lot of daily special small dishi that written in Japanese on white board, but don't worry, chefs and server will help you. They have good sushi, too. :)

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Good day Koji,

As others have said, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! I have two.

1) Similar to the previous question, but I live in Silver Spring, MD. Any suburban sushi options around Silver Spring/Rockville/Bethesda?

2) My girlfriend loves eel sauce and I would like to try and make it.. I would love to know what the ingredients are and the method to make it!

Thanks again!

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My best favorite Japanese place is "Blue Ocean." http://www.blueocean-sushi.com

Link appears to be down. Here is the impt. info from another source (reliability not guaranteed):

Blue Ocean Japanese Restaurent

9440 Main Street, Fairfax (in the shopping center on the northeast corner of 236 and Pickett. Next to the Chuck E. Cheese.)

Voice: (703) 425-7555. Fax: (703) 425-8274.

Lunch hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm.

Dinner hours: Sun.-Thurs. 5-10pm.

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Good day Koji,

As others have said, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!  I have two.

1) Similar to the previous question, but I live in Silver Spring, MD.  Any suburban sushi options around Silver Spring/Rockville/Bethesda?

2) My girlfriend loves eel sauce and I would like to try and make it.. I would love to know what the ingredients are and the method to make it!

Thanks again!

Hi wahooob.

Chatting is super fun for me!

Sorry,I'm not sure about sushi place in your area.

But, I have favorite Japanese place in Rockville that is "TEMARI Cafe". (1043 rockville pike, rockville MD 301-340-7720)

I usually have combination menu of lunch special there after I picked Japanese magazines up at book store on upstairs. That's one of best lunch value for me.

Combination lunch come with couple kind of appetizer, miso soup, bowl of rice, pickled vegtable and sashimi plus something else as two main course. (I believe we have 4 or 5 choices) This place reminds me bistro in Japan. They have variety of menu so I hope you enjoy non sushi Japanese meal at TEMARI Cafe.

Basically eel sauce is reduction of soy sauce, sugar, sake and chunks of eel or bones. There are so many recipes, some people use brown sugar, malt jelly, honey, couple different kind of soy sauce and starch for their taste. I tell you simple recipe here.

600cc soy sauce, 1/2lbs sugar, 5tbs sake and 1/4lbs broiled eel meat (optional)

Mix soy, sugar and sake in a pot. Heat them up, add eel after sugar melt and

bring to boil then make fire below medium to simmer until the liquid become thick enough to cover the surface of spoon. Strain sauce and chill. It sounds easy, but I think it takes more than hour. (I usually prepair gallon of sauce so I'm not sure how long it takes to complete.) You need to stair sauce often and don't burn it.

The other way to make your own sauce is buying a bottle of eel sauce at store and make it to your favorite taste. It's much easier and save lot of time.

Enjoy your creation!!

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Earlier in the chat vegetable wrapped rolls were mentioned. I'm very interested in this because I can't eat rice, but used to really like sushi. This goes out to the chef or any readers- how do I order these? What is their name? Any good places?

Best,

Ed

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Earlier in the chat vegetable wrapped rolls were mentioned.  I'm very interested in this because I can't eat rice, but used to really like sushi.  This goes out to the chef or any readers- how do I order these?  What is their name?  Any good places?

Best,

Ed

Hi Ed

The vegitable roll that we talked earlier in the chat has rice.

At sushi place, You can order vegitable roll without rice and tell chefs your favorite ingredients. If you OK with rice paper, you're going to like Vietnamese summer roll

(Rice paper wrapped vegitable, noodle and some meat with sweet sauce serve as appetizer.)

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Koji,

If someone were to approach Sushi-Ko for the first time, and wanted to experience the best that the restaurant can offer, what would you suggest that they do?  How much should they expect to spend?

I recommend to have tasting menu($50), It come with five couses and dessert.

That's easiest way to try our speciality.

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Thank you chef, for such an interesting chat. Hopefully I'm not too late with my question.

In this month's Washington Flyer you were asked who you would cook for if it could be anyone, and you suggested Robert Parker, with the following menu. Would this menu be available for mere mortals were we to request it?

To honor—or challenge—Mr. Parker, Terano would begin the feast with two cuts of flounder carpaccio sprinkled with a black truffle vinaigrette and topped with microgreens. The second course—“foie gras from the sea”—would be rolled, steamed, and then pan-seared monkfish liver, served with ponzu, grated radish and a citrus-soy sake vinaigrette. Next, raw Japanese pen-shell scallops with sea salt (hold the soy sauce, advises Terano; it will steamroll the scallops) and Spanish bluefin tuna. Finally, it’s tuna six ways—from lean to medium-fatty to tender, fatty tuna—belly seared and lightly grilled. “We can do tuna at least 10 ways,” Terano laughs, “but we don’t want our diners to explode.”
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Thank you chef, for such an interesting chat.  Hopefully I'm not too late with my question.

In this month's Washington Flyer you were asked who you would cook for if it could be anyone, and you suggested Robert Parker, with the following menu.  Would this menu be available for mere mortals were we to request it?

Yes, We do most of the nights.

It's all up to market variety so please give us a call to make sure before you come.

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For awhile now, I've wanted to write a thank-you to Koji for joining us, but the right words just haven't come.

Two years ago, I wrote this about Koji, and nothing has changed since then: Nabbing one of the coveted seats in front of Koji at Sushi-Ko is one of my very favorite dining experiences, and Koji never fails to come through with an interesting, thoughtful presentation and progression, not only within the same plate of sashimi, but also over the course of the entire meal.

Koji, thank you very much for joining us here. Not once did it occur to me that your written English was this good; otherwise, I would have asked you to do this a long time ago. This chat was both entertaining and educational - very much like one of the meals you orchestrate at Sushi-Ko. Thanks Koji!

And cheers!

Rocks

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For awhile now, I've wanted to write a thank-you to Koji for joining us, but the right words just haven't come.

Two years ago, I wrote this about Koji, and nothing has changed since then: Nabbing one of the coveted seats in front of Koji at Sushi-Ko is one of my very favorite dining experiences, and Koji never fails to come through with an interesting, thoughtful presentation and progression, not only within the same plate of sashimi, but also over the course of the entire meal.

Koji, thank you very much for joining us here. Not once did it occur to me that your written English was this good; otherwise, I would have asked you to do this a long time ago. This chat was both entertaining and educational - very much like one of the meals you orchestrate at Sushi-Ko. Thanks Koji!

And cheers!

Rocks

Thank you very much Don and every one who joined this chat.

It was first time to do chat on my life, I was little nerveous at beginning but it was very fun for me and I was waiting for more questions at the end. Basically I like to answer the custmer's questions so catch me at sushi bar any time and feel free to do it.

I wish your wonderful culinary experience.

Thanks again!

Koji

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