There’s something irresistible about Japanese food — the freshness of ingredients, the well-balanced flavours and most of all, the distinctive taste of miso, shoyu and dashi. Japanese food is well-loved all around the world so it’s no wonder why it has been given a UNESCO heritage status with its unique preparation methods and exceptional attention to detail. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean Japanese Home Cooking should be complicated (nobody expects an omakase meal all the time). Instead, it should focus on the philosophy of ‘Washoku’: ingredients, cooking style, nutrition, and appreciation; simple in style but big on flavour.
We have a chat with Sonoko Sakai, a chef and soba noodle master from the hills of Los Angelos, who is the upcoming host of our Japanese Home Cooking Masterclass. Sonoko shares with us more on her thoughts about Japanese Home Cooking.
Hi Sonoko, could you tell us more about yourself?
I was born in New York and raised by Japanese parents in many places - Tokyo, San Francisco, Kamakura, Mexico City and Los Angeles. I was able to cultivate a rich and diverse palate growing up but my culinary home will always be Japanese. Hence when it comes to cooking, I tend to focus more on Japanese food not just for my family but also for friends who come over for meals.
How did your journey as a chef begin?
My journey first begin when I was still in graduate school at UCLA. I loved to cook for people and one of my professors encouraged me to write a cookbook. Writing a cookbook was also a way to find my voice in English. I then started writing my first book: The Poetical Pursuit of Food: Japanese Recipes for American Cooks which was eventually published in 1986. Since then, I’ve collaborated with chefs in the region, doing pop-ups at restaruants to showcase Japanese food as well as hosting workshops from my home for dishes like soba noodles, tofu, miso, Japanese Curry etc.
The next exciting milestone will be the launch of my upcoming book: Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavours which will be launching in November this year!
What is your favourite home cooked meal growing up vs now as a chef?
I always like to keep it simple and uncomplicated when it comes to the food. Hence my favourite meal has not changed, that is a simple grilled fish with steamed rice, miso soup and pickles!
What are some of your food influences/philosophies/inspiration when it comes to cooking?
I believe Home Cooking is the most essential cooking. It’s always such a feeling of bliss to come home to a home cooked meal because of the love and effort that goes into it. Also, I believe cooking starts in the garden and ends in the garden. By that, I mean one can try to grow things in the garden, with potted plants like herbs, fruit and/ or vegetables. Another process is composting of kitchen scraps and turning them into soil that will nourish your garden and potted plants. Hence, becoming a beautiful cycle of food.
Traditional Japanese cooking is sometimes described as a dying art because the younger generation likes to eat fast food/fusion food, do you agree?
A lot of the Japanese old traditions are being lost because Japanese people like convenience. But there is also a movement to restore the old ways. I am part of that movement. I want to bring back quality and authenticity to the table in the most simple and accessible way possible. That is one of the issues my latest book addresses.
What are you most excited about hosting the masterclass session in Singapore?
To be honest, this is my first visit to Singapore even though it’s been on my travel list for a long time. I am so excited that Singaporeans have such a big interest in Japanese food and culture. Hence, I can't wait to share what I know about Japan with the students and learn from them as well!
Join Sonoko for her Japanese Home Cooking Workshop on Japanese Curry, Miso and Ramen, happening on 12-13 October 2019. Seats are limited so click here to sign up!