Interview with Namiko Chen: Author of Just One Cookbook
September 20, 2011

Learning to cook new types of cuisine can be intimidating. Everything from getting the ingredients to finding a reliable recipe. Ideally, you have that one experienced friend who’ll do the hand-holding (i.e., basically, cook the meal for you). Well, when it comes to Japanese cooking, Namiko (‘Nami’) Chen is that one really experienced friend.

Recent winner of CBS San Francisco’s Most Valuable Blogger Awards 2011, Nami’s blog Just One Cookbook has quickly become the place to go for some of the best kept secrets in Japanese cooking.  

Your blog is an incredible resource for all things related to Japanese cooking. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? How did you get started?

I grew up in Yokohama, Japan and lived there until I was 20 years old. Growing up, I helped my mom around the kitchen since I was young but it was mostly all prep work. When I first started to live by myself I was ecstatic and one of the reasons is because I didn’t have to be in the kitchen anymore! However, I started to spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen when my babies started to eat regular food. I wanted them to eat well, just like how my mom made sure we ate nutritious balanced meals every meal. I started to record my recipes and that eventually evolved to a blog thanks to my friends’ suggestion and support. I just started this year and it’ll be a lifelong project, or at least until my kids are old enough to take over.

I don’t think I appreciated the variety in Japanese cuisine. Are there any Japanese dishes that you really love that more people should be trying?

Most Japanese restaurants only offer sushi, teriyaki chicken, tempura, and other commercialized dishes. However there are countless number of dishes that we eat at home that are not offered in Japanese restaurants in the US. Most of them are not that hard to make and Japanese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Some of the dishes that I like that more people should know include Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba, Japanese curry, and Tonkatsu.

Do you ever have any trouble finding the ingredients you need? How have you found the quality of the ingredients in San Francisco?

I’m really lucky to live in San Francisco. I have 2 Japanese supermarkets within a 15 minute drive. There is a much bigger Japanese supermarket as well about 40 minutes away. When I was living a bit farther from a Japanese supermarket, I always had to spend my weekends grocery shopping. I can get pretty much the same or similar ingredients (but slightly more expensive) as in Japan. Nijiya market which has several stores in the Bay Area is known for their organic produce and premium Japanese meats. You can find well-marbled sliced beef for shabu shabu or yakiniku readily in the meat section.

Do you have a “GO-TO” dish that you make when you’re particularly busy? A family favorite?

I always make donburi (rice bowl) or noodle dish when I’m really busy. I can prepare the entire meal within 30-45 minutes. Both dishes include carb (either noodle or rice), veggies, and meat or seafood. It’s much healthier than eating out and the best part is it’s quick, easy, and delicious! The best part is there in only one dish to wash! Our family’s favorites are Yaki Udon (stir fried udon), Oyakodon, and Gyudon.

Did you have a favorite dish growing up? Do you still make it?

My favorite dish growing up has to be my mom’s Korokke (croquette). She makes it with mashed potatoes and ground beef. It’s so good that I have to have it every time I go back to Japan or when she visits me. I do make this once in a while myself but it’s a little time consuming and I still think her Korokke is much better than mine.

We really appreciate you sharing your experience. Do you have any final tips to help the readers of this blog become rock stars like you in the kitchen?

Cooking is all about being comfortable in the kitchen. Get to know your tools, common ingredients, the stove, and most importantly the people you are feeding. Find good sources of recipes, and after a few trials and errors you will soon find yourself getting really good at a few dishes. It’ll then become easier to follow other recipes and challenge yourself with new ingredients and seasonings. Preparing delicious food is not difficult - just take it one step at a time.

Thanks for all of your insight Nami! We look forward to following your progress.

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