It’s a Saturday evening and Yoko Isassi takes two slender bottles out of her refrigerator. Inside are dark waves of kombu, or kelp, sitting in a faint greenish brown broth.
“This the dashi stock that I made,” she explains to the group of ten. We’re in a modest studio in downtown Los Angeles and Isassi is hosting her weekly cooking workshop. A Japanese cooking teacher and consultant, her company is called Food Story — a reference to her mission to merge Japanese food with cultural and historical lessons.
Raised in the Japanese countryside of the Gifu prefecture, Isassi started cooking at a young age. “I lived right next to my grandmother and we always ate together,” she says. “I was always a hungry girl, so I helped my grandmother to cook.”
Her interest in Japanese history began with the tea ceremony. “It’s an intellectual challenge to create a ceremony event,” Isassi says. “Japanese etiquette is very precise.”
Isassi says that the Japanese typically pick up their tableware when they eat. Tableware is usually flat and, according to Isassi, Japan is the only country that uses chopsticks exclusively. Forks and spoons were only introduced to Japanese households after the 20th century. They are rarely used, except in certain Westernized restaurants in the bigger cities.
“When I was little, my father had a trading business,” she says. “We always had other people from other countries visit our house and I was always explaining to them how to eat the food.”
Today, Isassi has transformed her love of storytelling into a business. Her workshops focus on the basics and most of her ingredients are made from scratch. At the cooking workshop, she showed off a bottle of the ponzu sauce that she’d kept bottled for months before it achieved the taste she wanted.
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