Machiko Chiba cooks traditional ‘washoku’ the easier way

 Chef Machiko Chiba at her cooking demo at  9501 Restaurant in Quezon City.

Chef Machiko Chiba at her cooking demo at 9501 Restaurant in Quezon City.

Among the famous cuisines of the world, Japanese is one of the most celebrated for being delicious and healthy at the same time. And then, there is also its beautiful—almost artistic presentation—that when combined to with its taste makes for a visual and sensorial experience.

In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) even listed washoku—the Japanese term for its traditional cuisine—as an “intangible cultural heritage” in 2013. A good part of washoku is associated with the sharing of the food in Japanese communities.

In recent years, foodies of Manila have been crazy about Japanese cuisine and the food industry took advantage by opening ramen places, sushi bars, and even Japanese fast food chains.

Yet amidst this popularity, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF), staged on January 21 the “Taste of Japan in Manila” to promote the authentic washoku.

To do so, MAFF brought to Manila chef Machiko Chiba, a New York and Tokyo-based chef who has been travelling the world to promote good food and good health.

But in a surprise turn of events, Chiba, in a cooking demo at the 9501 Restaurant in Quezon City, used her modern and patented Cook-Zen pot with a microwave oven!

While these cooking wares are not traditional in any way, Chiba confidently told food writers and editors, restaurateurs, and chefs that through these innovations, she hopes to get more people cooking Japanese food, in faster manner.

“When I was young I studied traditional Japanese cooking in different traditional houses under famous chefs in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and realized that everybody has one thing in common—they are all very good but they were all time consuming to make,” Chiba said at a roundtable interview.

“I’ve always thought, ‘How can I make it easier?’ When we were in America, I went to the University of Pittsburg and discovered microwave cooking, which was very popular. I studied that and I tried to honor the traditional Japanese old ways by combining it with the new innovation,” Chiba recalled.

After several experiments and collaborations with different companies, Chiba released and patented Cook-Zen, a cooking pot designed especially for microwaves.

Cook-Zen minimized the traditional hours of labor to only minutes of preparation. It took the chef almost a decade to perfect her product.

And to show just how easy it is to prepare washoku, with the freshest ingredients, Chiba cooked six dishes for her Manila guests, which included, to everyone’s surprise once again, her own version of adobo.

“I love adobo!” she exclaimed when asked why she decided to create one, in the form of her “Special Spicy Pork Adobo.”

“My friend hired a maid from the Philippines and she asked the maid to make adobo for me, it was delicious!” she continued with her story. She further noted that since then, she has tried to make her own version of adobo.

This only proves that while Chiba honors and respect washoku, she also challenges herself to learn other cuisines of the world. At one time, she went to Hong Kong because a friend recommended there are many culinary teachers at the capital.

This was proven by her daughter Akiko, who came with her in Manila. According to the younger Chiba, her mother deeply immerses herself in learning new cuisines. Once, she moved from north to south of India to know everything about curry.

The other dishes that Chiba also prepared included green bean and fried tofu, Japanese clams steamed with sake and garlic, and Japanese roast beef.

Finally, giving emphasis to the beauty of Japanese cooking, Chiba concluded, “In Japan, we have four seasons and it means we have different ingredients. And we have the mountains, as well as the ocean so we have the best of both. Japanese food is very simple and very subtle which means you really get to enjoy each ingredient and combine them together in a subtle way.”


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