For my Community Involvement Program, I participated in La Carriere Cooking School, located in downtown Kyoto. The school is geared toward Kyoto locals, and separated into men’s and women’s classes. As a member, I was able to learn many methods of cooking–particularly focusing on Japanese cuisine. Many of the other men tended to be middle-aged and older, sometimes there to learn how to cook for themselves, and sometimes there to be more involved in the kitchen with their family.
My first several times were rather a bit of a struggle language-wise. Though I have a decent grasp of understanding conversational Japanese, I did not know most of the food-oriented vocabulary (I did not even know the word for “pepper” before going in). However, over time and with help from the instructors, I became much more comfortable using the terminology and was much better able to follow the recipes as a result. One of the most interesting things I noticed was that when we made Japanese food, it was a necessity that I follow the recipe exactly, and the instructors would sometimes get flustered if I deviated. When it came to European-style food, however, the atmosphere felt much more relaxed, and I was allowed to experiment more freely. As well, the only instructor that seemed okay with me trying to tweak the recipe as I pleased was the only one who had worked outside of Japan.
While cooking, I was able to converse with the chefs and other students, and as my cooking terminology grew, my ability to have more fluent and nuanced conversations about the food increased too. Of course, I did have the more interesting conversations with the younger men–partly because we had more in common, and partly because it seemed that the older men were much more focused on keeping their head down and understanding and perfecting the recipe. For instance, I often was able to talk with others about cultural and linguistic differences between Japan and western countries. Cooking in a Japanese kitchen was a very different experience from the kitchens that I was used to, in that it was much more regimented and focused on aesthetic detail. However, I am glad to have had this opportunity.