Thursday, October 28, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation in New York's Japanese Cultural World

New York is a city with about 8.4 million people, and according to the 2000 Census, more than 22,000 of them are Japanese. Given those numbers, it's interesting how I keep running into the same people at seemingly unrelated Japanese cultural events, either as guests or as speakers. (I suppose the events are related in the sense that they involve Japanese culture, but read on for the sake of argument.)

One example is Monday's lecture at the Japan Society, Field to Table: The Role of Vegetables in Japanese Diet.

  • Elizabeth Andoh, Japanese food expert, cookbook author, and culinary educator, was presenting the history and traditions of Japanese vegan and vegetarian cuisine. It may come as a surprise that vegetables play an important role in Japanese meals, despite the country's connection to fish (sushi), beef (Kobe and shabu shabu), pork (tonkatsu and everything cooked in Okinawa), and chicken (yakitori). Read about my experience with the lecture here.
Elizabeth Andoh's latest book explores Japan's vegetarian cuisine

  • Andoh shared the stage with Chef Masato Nishihara, who is the executive chef at Kajitsu, New York's only restaurant serving shojin ryori, or "temple vegetarian cuisine." I had the pleasure of watching Chef Nishihara in action at a vegetarian workshop last year.
Kajitsu's logo (Shiro Tsujimura)

  • My friend Stacy Smith was also at that workshop, serving as Chef Nishihara's interpreter. She happened to attend Monday's lecture and wrote a blog entry of her own.
Stacy with her shodo creations (from her website)

  • Harris Salat, who ran last year's workshop at Saveur, is a food writer who puts together these kinds of educational seminars around town. I went to one about Japanese tea just a couple of weeks ago.
Harris introduces Chef Nishihara at his workshop last year

So, it may not be like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but this illustrates that the Japanese community is pretty active. Tonight I'm going to the AREA Japan party, "Japan Commons." I doubt Chef Nishihara will be there, but I'm sure I'll find plenty of people who have a connection to Japan.


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