A Japanese Chef, While Learning English, Practises Her Craft at Home

Asako Sasaki slides a wooden box across the table in her friend’s apartment in Templeogue. Inside is a variety of foods, each bringing a different colour and taste to the meal.

Chicken wings lie in one corner of the box with a burgundy sheen from their sauce. Flecks of bright orange and green from sushi sit opposite, and slices of omelette and a pile of potato salad fill the rest of the space.

Sasaki steps back for a second to look at the dish.

Where some people might be delighted with their finished work, Sasaki is not. She pulls the box back.

She puts a mat underneath the dish, followed by some brightly coloured napkins at each corner. Finally, Sasaki places origami swans around the box and slides the whole creation back across the table.

It’s ready to eat.

Sasaki is a “food artist”, who makes intricate Japanese dishes from her home in Sandyford.

She has trained as a chef in three countries, written three cookbooks, and is learning English so she can move on to her next project: teaching people in Dublin to cook.

“I like Dublin so much,” she says. “I really enjoyed cooking with lovely ingredients from Europe at home.”

Food Writer to Food Maker

Sasaki studied literature in Japan, and cooking was always been a big part of her life too, she says. “My mum doesn’t like to cook, so she wanted me to cook [instead].”

Freelance food writer ticked both boxes, and that’s how she started her career.

“I wrote articles about food and restaurants in Tokyo for magazines such as Time Out, and websites,” she says.

In her friend’s apartment in Templeogue, she prepares the table for her selection of foods: sushi, chicken wings, potato salad, and a traditional Japanese omelette.

One of the samples is tightly wrapped in cling film. It looks like a long roll of dough lies inside. “This is a Japanese omelette,” she says.

Sasaki demonstrates how it’s made.

She pours an egg mixture into a long rectangular pan. She uses a spatula to gently roll the omelette over itself until it forms a long parcel.

“That’s why you can see the layers,” she says as her knife glides through it.

Once cut, the inside of the omelette reveals multiple swirling layers of cooked egg, like a savoury Swiss roll. The slices are placed next to the sushi in the box.

Moving to Europe

Sasaki moved to Europe after a business trip to America got canceled.

Her employer at the time told her that her English wasn’t good enough, she says. “I was so disappointed. That is why I thought I had to study English then.”

After working in Umu, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London, Sasaki returned to Japan and worked as a “food artist” in an art gallery.

Usually a food artist cooks just for events, she says. “A chef works for a restaurant and I work for exhibitions or events.”

After three years doing that, she decided to move back to Europe. “I knew there are so many people who are interested in Japanese food culture in Europe,” she says.

Back in Templeogue, Sasaki takes out the next addition to the picnic basket.

She begins to make sushi with an avocado and mango filling. “This meal would usually be used for a picnic in springtime, around the time of the cherry blossoms in Japan,” she says.

She lays down a thin sheet of seaweed on a bamboo rolling mat. Next, she spreads rice across this, forming the base for the sweet filling.

“This is Japanese sushi rice, which comes from Italy,” she says, with a smile. After laying down long slices of mango and avocado, Sasaki begins to roll it all up.

Her hands are working from muscle memory as she rolls the bamboo mat over itself, and runs the side of her hand down the length of the fold to tighten the roll.

Sasaki says she only makes this for friends. “It’s kind of for special occasions,” because of the amount of time it takes to make she says.

She cleans a sharp knife, cuts through the long roll diagonally, and then puts each piece in the wooden serving box.

Teaching the Trade

The three cookbooks she has written are not just for Japanese cooking, Saski says. They give the basics for cooking around the world, she says.

“I learned European cooking in London, Italian cooking in Bologna and French cooking in Tokyo,” says Sasaki.

At the moment, Sasaki is looking for a venue in Dublin so she can start teaching people how to cook. “I would like to make new communities through Japanese culture in the world,” says Sasaki.

Sasaki says she would start by teaching the basics such as sushi. “When you are getting older, it is hard to make new friends. But if you have a hobby, you can make it,” she says.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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