Yuki Gomi is the doyenne of Japanese cuisine and she’s on a mission to promote the simplicity of the culinary art form using easily accessible supermarket ingredients.
Yuki is a chef, food writer and cookery teacher who has appeared on Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast as well as featuring in several newspaper and magazine food columns. Charming and welcoming, she has an undeniable passion for her chosen career.
She regularly throws open the doors to her kitchen in Crystal Palace, where she teaches cookery classes and was more than happy to welcome in Eastlondonlines for a chat over a cup of mugicha (barley tea).
Yuki grew up in the mountains close to Mount Fuji, an idyllic countryside setting half an hour from Tokyo. Yuki’s mother Yoshimi inspired her love of food: “Mum is an amazing cook. She was the perfect housewife when I was a child, always cooking. It was a big part of my childhood.”
At the age of 19 she left Japan to study music in Chicago. A classical singer and pianist, Yuki spent four years at music school but it was while she was in her flat practising that she discovered her skills in the kitchen. “I always cooked for my friends and flatmates. People noticed I was good at it and suggested I should be a chef.”
Torn between her love of food and music, Yuki decided that music wasn’t for her and switched her studies to the Cordon Bleu Cooking and Hospitality Institute in Chicago to become a chef. “I wasn’t interested in Japanese cuisine when I started. When you’re young, you want to learn about something different to what you’re used to. I was into Western food, not Japanese.”
On graduating, she was quickly appointed chef in a busy Chicago restaurant and developed Asian and fusion dishes. However, her mentor encouraged her to spread her wings, explore her food heritage and specialise in her home cuisine.
At 26, she returned to Japan for several years to continue training with a master noodle chef but she didn’t settle. “The food industry in Japan is very conservative. I’d already changed because I’d been in the US for such a long time. It’s very tough for a woman working in the kitchen in Japan. It was difficult for me.”
Yuki came to England in 2005 to work in authentic Japanese restaurants in central London, creating new recipes and designing menus. She noticed more Americans and Europeans enjoying the food, though they were put off the idea of making their own at home as it seemed complicated and ingredients were hard to source. This inspired Yuki’s expansion into teaching, both at parties and for private clients and thus Yuki’s Kitchen was born.
Her incredible kitchen in Crystal Palace, designed by her architect husband Alex, is a haven for food fanciers wanting to learn the techniques of Japanese food preparation and keen amateurs travel from far and wide for tuition.
Yuki loves the area: “It’s like a village. It feels as if you’re somewhere out in the English countryside. London is great. It’s busy, so many nationalities, cosmopolitan, but it’s nice to come home from central London to our lovely little village.”
Her elegant, unpretentious food utilises supermarket ingredients. She tries to make Japanese food more accessible when teaching at home. “Japanese food is so easy to make but lots of people think it’s difficult or complicated because of the ingredients. However you can buy everything you need in Sainsbury’s. I love seeing people realise how simple it is to make the food.”
Yuki’s first book, Sushi At Home was published in 2013. She fondly recounts how the project with Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin publishers, arose. “They contacted all kinds of chefs and were looking for the best person to write about Japanese cooking at home. I wanted to introduce Japanese home-style cooking. That’s what they were looking for.” Yuki would love to write more, “but not about sushi! I’ve written enough about sushi. Seventy recipes was enough.”
Yuki has a trusty helper in the kitchen. “I couldn’t live without my favourite knife,” she exclaims, “It’s beautiful. It’s for slicing sushi and sashimi and is known as a Yanagiba knife.”
When she has a night off, Yuki opts for dining of a different kind. “Middle Eastern food is my favourite. I love baba ganoush! I love herbs and spices.”
But there is one dish cooked by her mother that she recalls most fondly. “A hoto noodle dish which is a miso-based noodle soup – peasant food almost. My father always wanted that and she would always prepare it for him. It reminds me of her home cooking.”
Yuki’s classes are suitable for beginners and she makes it all accessible with her simple, engaging instruction. Entertaining and informative, you can learn to make ramen, sushi and sashimi but her Gyoza 3 Ways and Sushi At Home: Let’s Roll classes are her most popular.
After a session in her kitchen, you get to eat the fruits of your labour and come away having learned some very handy skills – even Eastlondonlines crafted a decent gyoza in five minutes.
Find out more about Yuki’s work and classes at http://www.yukiskitchen.com/
You can find hints, tips, recipes and delicious food at https://twitter.com/Yukiskitchen
by Catherine Davies