Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kyoto: Japanese Cooking Class

Ok, last of 3 notes on Kyoto.

In the course of preparing for our trip to Kyoto, I stumbled upon and ended up making a reservation at a highly-reviewed cooking class in Kyoto called Haru Cooking Class.

Haru Cooking Class website:

HCC is a one-family operation run by a Japanese man named Taro with the assistance of his wife, Yoshiko, and the entertainment of their delightful 5-year old daughter, Haruko. (And child number 2 was on the way) The class, which is run out of the family's home, welcomes small groups of foreigners to learn about, help cook, and enjoy a traditional, casual Japanese meal in an intimate and quintessentially Japanese home environment.

The class exceeded my expectations. Taro was an evidently practiced chef and extremely knowledgeable about Japanese food and cuisine. He provided useful and surprising information about the key ingredients and mega-myths of Japanese food. For example...

The Great Kobe Beef Scam

Did you know that not one single ounce of Kobe beef was exported out of Japan until 2012? Not even one single ounce. And none was exported to the United States until November 2012? That's right. If you think you ate Kobe beef before November 2012, you were sold the culinary equivalent of a beach front property in Kansas. All those chain bars that offer Kobe beef sliders on the happy hour menu? Lies.

If you read Forbes in 2012, good for you. You were in the know:

As the above article mentions, Kobe beef was not permitted to be imported into the US until August 2012, and the first (tiny) shipments arrived in November 2012 and March 2013.

If you read the Wall Street Journal in 2012, good for you. You were in the know:

If you are comforting your culinary ego by telling yourself that the Kobe beef you dropped a pretty penny on was definitely in the last two years, so "it's cool," think again. You too were almost certainly scammed:

Certifying paperwork for the Kobe beef at HCC

Each year, a measly 3,000 head of cattle in Japan are deemed to satisfy the extremely strict requirements to become certified Kobe beef - a designation awarded by the Japanese government. Of that volume, as of 2014, only 10% is shipped abroad and of that 10% only a minuscule amount is sent to the United States.

The completed meal included many 
Every carcass that has attained Kobe beef certification is given a unique 10-digit identifier and certifying paperwork that follows the beef from slaughter to its place of consumption. So, if you want to end the great Kobe beef scam and look really snooty in the process, ask to see the paperwork on the Kobe beef sliders they are selling for $9 at your local happy hour joint.

A legitimate, certified Kobe beef steak runs bout $200, a Kobe beef burger about $50.

So, What Does Real Kobe Beef Taste Like?

At HCC, Vince had the opportunity to try two portions (mine and his) of certified Kobe beef and here is what he reports, in my third person paraphrase:

On sight, it is obvious that Kobe beef is different. The raw meat is extremely marbled, and this quality had a significant effect on both the taste and the texture of the steak. The marbling rendered the beef very tender and flavorful. It had a sweetness atypical of a common steak. The marbling also affected the texture of the steak in a way that was hard to describe but added an element of consistency throughout, and that effect was so significant that its texture was unlike any other steak he had eaten.

All of this was news to me (I blame my total ignorance on my vegetarianism!) and only the tip of the iceberg of what I learned. I won't delve into the 5 types of soy sauce, the 3 types of miso, and the proper preparation of dashi!

HCC was a highlight of the trip for me (even as a vegetarian) because it was so educational and interactive. And, by the way, HCC does offer a vegetarian class too!

Haru Cooking Class website:http://www.kyoto-cooking-class.com/

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