Studio Ai: Authentic Japanese Home Cooking Lessons

Mastering The Art Of Washoku In Tokyo

By Jo Cox
April 5, 2017
Food & Drink, Lifestyle

Traditional Japanese dishes, salads and side menus — learn it all in English at your convenience.

Ai “Lisa” Yokoyama is a woman of multiple talents, especially when it comes to food. She spends most of her week working with her partner in his Italian restaurant, Cucina Alla Baba, and tutoring children. But recently she has added to her already impressive skill set by opening her own bilingual cooking school, Studio Ai, in Tokyo.  

Ai (right) explaining the step-by-step process of making Oyakodon, a traditional Japanese dish, at her Shinjuku studio.

Inspired by her innate passion for food and her mother’s home cooking (Ai’s mother is the daughter of a ryokan owner and the house’s master chef), Ai offers a personalized, hands-on experience for small groups with a desire to learn the art of authentic Japanese home cooking, or as she refers to it — comfort food.

Each class is uniquely crafted around your personal preferences — you can tell Ai exactly what you’d like to cook or she will happily suggest a menu based on your likes, dislikes and dietary requirements. Classes are hosted in a homely studio kitchen in a Shinjuku high-rise, a more industrial-style kitchen at a restaurant in Roppongi, or in the comfort of your own home. Ai’s classes can also include a trip to a local supermarket to show you where to purchase the ingredients you need.

Inspired to learn more about Ai and in desperate need for some new recipes to tempt our children (and adults) at home, my friend and I waded through the drizzle to Ai’s Shinjuku studio, ready for a challenge.

Ai offers a personalized, hands-on experience for small groups with a desire to learn the art of authentic Japanese home cooking.

We had decided prior to the class that we’d like to learn how to cook oyako don, a child-friendly chicken and egg traditional Japanese dish we were both familiar with but had never attempted to cook at home. Ai suggested two side dishes to go with it: renkon nikudzume (fried lotus root with minced pork and vegetables), and spinach with Japanese sesame sauce. She believed both were child-friendly dishes and “a good way for them to become vegetable lovers.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that sounded particularly enticing to us. Ai also included dashi (broth) on the menu plan, and a toromi (thick) sauce to accompany the fried lotus root.

Oyakodon in its early stage of completion.

Ai presents the class in a wonderfully casual manner, chatting away encouragingly as she goes, while offering clear and concise instructions. You’ll chop, peel, mash, stir and fry while learning Ai’s tricks of the trade as she teaches you what her mother taught her.

Making Renkon Nikudzume, or fried lotus root with minced meat.

The final stage of the class, and perhaps the most rewarding, is sitting down to enjoy your meal. I was particularly eager to try the fried lotus roots with minced pork and vegetables, having spent the past couple of hours marveling at their creation and relishing the aroma that filled the room once they hit the fry pan. Trust me — they did not disappoint.

As if we weren’t enjoying ourselves enough already, excitedly anticipating our kids’ reaction to our newly acquired menu plan, Ai topped it off with a glass of sparkling sake and a bag of goodies to take home. We left with full bellies, new skills and warm souls.

The yummy meal completed: Spinach salad, Renkon Nikudzume, Oyakodon and Tofu Miso Soup.

Back at home, I was impatient to hear  the verdict from the three extremely hard to please, small people in my family. The result? It was a crowd pleaser — particularly the “Lotus Burgers,” as they affectionately referred to my newly mastered fried lotus root recipe. I found it easier than I thought to replicate the dishes I had learnt in my own home and felt quite chuffed with my newly acquired expertise.

The Deets:

Location: Shinjuku, Roppongi (Morinaga Bldg. 2F, 7-9-5 Roppongi, Minato-ku) or your own home/accommodation
Class size: 2-6 people
Cost: ¥7,000 per person + tax (please note, this price may vary depending on the ingredients you require). Cost includes lesson, ingredients (one main and two sides), bag of goodies and take-home recipes.
Time: 3-4 hours (depending on the menu)
For class reservations: Call 090-2923-3550 or email studioaitokyo@gmail.com
You can also find Ai on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

Jo Cox has lived in Tokyo for the past 3 years. With a background in Radio and Music promotions, now a mum to 3, she enjoys trying to keep up with Tokyo’s social scene; wining, dining and being entertained. She also enjoys travelling, running and spends a lot of time negotiating with very small people.

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