BY SHANA GRAVES
A lot of the challenges facing foreign women living in a country like Japan include not only the exterior struggles such as culture and language, but the challenges that also seep into ones home, specifically the kitchen.
As Tokyo continues to grow as a metropolis, issues of space arise and residences must be built upwards in order to accommodate the enormous population. That means that in order to get the most out of limited space, corners must be cut, resulting in most apartments having diminutive kitchen areas that are much smaller then most of us are used to. Even outside of Tokyo, traditional cooking techniques limit kitchen appliances, and most kitchen don’t have ovens or more than one or two burners; quite a challenge when making a big meal! In Japan, since the workforce is so busy it’s quite common to eat out rather than cook at home and thus less focus is put on having a large kitchen.
Meet Davide Maraschi, an Italian chef who has taken all of his gastronomy wisdom, combined it with his experiences living and cooking in Asia, and created a cooking class specifically suited to those with small kitchens. For the past year he has been helping struggling in-home cooks and aspiring chefs in Japan to utilise the tools (and ingredients) at their disposal efficiently while teaching them how to prepare delectable and traditional Italian dishes. I sat down with him to chat about his classes, life in Japan, and some tips for aspiring chefs.
How did you learn to cook?
I have always loved cooking. My grandmother had a restaurant in the North of Italy not far from Milan and I grew up helping her out in the kitchen during my free time. My grandmother had an amazing passion and love for cooking and somehow I have inherited that from her.
Tell me a bit about how you started a cooking school here:
I came to Japan about three years ago for my job. I’m an IT consultant and as a result of the financial crisis one year ago I lost my job, and that’s when I thought about starting a cooking school.
Do you have a specific style when it comes to cooking?
My cooking philosophy is that food should be fresh and simple. I like to use the best natural ingredients available to enhance the flavour and eating experience. Cooking is a way of expressing my creativity and I also love to entertain people. Although most of my cooking classes focus on traditional Italian dishes I do also like to experiment in the kitchen. I spent ten years living in different Asian locations (Singapore, India, Manila, and Bangkok) and often when I am at home I like to blend the taste of Asian cuisine with a Mediterranean style.
What is a typical class like?
In my classes I cook traditional Italian dishes. After all, that’s my heritage and that’s what I am good at. I like to keep my classes interactive and ‘hands on’ as much as possible so that everyone has the chance to have a go. The kitchen I rent has four stoves and generally I don’t take more than eight people (two per cooking stove). The students who attend my classes vary in age from their early 20s to late 50s. Students are predominantly women, but recently more men are signing up for the classes. I usually decide the menu by myself but I am always open to suggestions. The classes are usually held in the evenings but if a group wants to book a class during the day it can be arranged, I just need to know in advance.
How did you come up with the name You Can Cook?
People often ask me about the name of my cooking school. Yes, Obama had a lot to do with it, but jokes aside I wanted to convey the message of empowering people to be able to cook at home. The idea is to teach students how to prepare dishes that the average person can cook at home. Often people lack the confidence to cook and I want to teach people that you do not need to be a professional as long as you have the passion and enthusiasm to try and give it your best.
What is the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome when it comes to cooking in a foreign country?
As far as availability of ingredients and infrastructure (kitchen facility, tools, etc.) Japan is first class, so no problems there. Obviously, for me the language is the biggest problem. I would like to teach Japanese housewives during the day, but it would be very difficult. For the first two years of living in Japan I did not need to speak Japanese but now I am trying to catch up.
How have you overcome this challenge?
Having an assistant who speaks Japanese would help a lot sometimes. However, more than half of my students are bilingual and they always help me. The problem is that they are professional people who are only available in the evenings after working hours.
What sets your classes apart from similar ones in Tokyo?
Well I don’t think there are many Italians in Tokyo who teach Italian cooking. The fact that I am not a professional chef may actually be my strength. In my opinion professionals tend to take things for granted and teach complicated dishes, whereas my approach to cooking is simple. I learned how to cook from copying my grandmother and I feel that my students can learn as well just by observing my passion at work. I am also open to suggestions. So if you have a particular dish in mind that you want to try out, let me know and we will cook it together.
What advice do you have for BAB readers?
Start with easy recipes and build your confidence up. Try to use fresh ingredients as much as possible. For example, buy fresh herbs—they are more expensive but they taste much better than dried herbs, especially basil and sage. When you are done with them put them in the freezer, they will last for six months and still be quite fresh when it comes time to use them. Last but not least, come to my cooking classes and I’ll show you how it’s done.
For more information about Davide or his classes, visit www.ucancook.homestead.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.