Umami Mart Registry

Just about a year ago, I left my day job to become an entrepreneur. Similar story to the Umami Mart ladies. Well, I haven't been featured in any major newspapers, nor do I get interviewed left and right, but it's just a matter of time before I have my own Food Network show (well in my dreams at least).

I've started my own agency, Moto Creative Services, with hopes to one day become the next Martha Stewart. It's a long journey, but I am slowly growing my empire.

So far, I have become one of the most popular cooking class teachers among Japanese people in New York City. Every month, I hold eight classes with six students each, teaching basic, fun, easy-but-looks-like-I-slaved-all-day-in-the-kitchen type recipes. When I announce the class schedule alongside a menu every month, it usually sells out within 2-3 hours. It's intense.

Here is a glimpse into my cooking class. The number of dishes I make varies from month to month. Cooking time is between 90-120 minutes, then followed by 60-90 minutes of tasting and chatting.

This is the set up of the class room. My class is strictly demonstration-only. I don't let students cook. Students can focus on watching, and writing down whatever they need to so they can recreate at home. Also they take TONS of photos, from the picture of unfamiliar ingredients and knife-cutting techniques, to of course final products and even my chimney cake hair.

It's very important to decorate your table VERY nicely. It's a cooking class where I teach how to cook, but setting the table is just as important as the food itself. One day I was at IKEA and found these fabric for very cheap, so I made napkins.

How fun are these grumpy ladies??!

I arrange flowers professionally, hence my table is always filled with colorful arrangements. These are very dark purple calla lilies, with hala leaves.

Notice the pink camo napkins?

These are called gloriosa lilies with hala leaves.

Light purple orchids.

Creative table setting idea: using napkin rings as a chopsticks rest.

Another version of a napkin ring as chopsticks rest:

Also note the mother of pearl coaster to rest the silverware. These creative touches are very much appreciated by style-conscious Japanese ladies aka my students.

The key for an efficient cooking class is the amount of prep work. If I prep too much ahead of time, my students won't understand the process, but if I do too little prep work, I inevitabley run out of time and the students get bored of watching me chop vegetables. Every month, when I create a new menu, I think about the prep work and how long each process would take.

Vegetable terrine with tofu pesto sauce:

Plating is becoming a very important factor as well.

Shrimp cevice, marinated with capers and strawberries:

Definitely a part of the spring menu.

For my Japan-themed class:

 Taro cake (in bowl); below: tofu with truffle oil and salt, asparagus with vinegar miso, and hearts of palm with plum sauce.  See the big ring-shaped napkin ring?

Introducing western items such as hearts of palm to Japanese cooking is always an eye-opening moment for the students.

Six Asian-themed appetizers:

Lower level from left: scallion pancake, Asian pork meatball on lemongrass skewer (to add a bit more flavor into the meatball), shrimp chao fun. Upper level from left, Asian vichyssoise, ban ban ji (chicken with sesame sauce), and harusame salad.

Corn soup with watermelon, cucumber and mint salad:

Making corn soup is so labor-intensive, but totally worth the effort in order to enjoy the sweetness of summer corn. It needs to be chilled, so i make it a day before.

My take on Singaporean chicken with rice:

Using sticky rice is the key. And this is an one-pot meal, extremely easy.

Can't fail roast duck breast, with purple sweet potato on slices of golden beets:

This was for the "visually-striking"-themed month.

I just finished the "America"-themed class. Cornbread, potato salad and baby back spare ribs, with my own dry rub and homemade BBQ sauce:

This was delicious.

This month's dessert, peach and almond cream tart, and potato chip cookies:

Yep, you gotta have potato chips somewhere when the theme is "America"

An important part of my cooking class is to serve very good tea with dessert. I have a bunch of teas by Marriage Freres, Fortnum & Mason, and Dammann Freres that pair nicely with desserts. Oh, I also serve flavored iced tea from Harney & Sons during class for my students to enjoy. Attention to details.

It's been about a year since I started teaching these cooking classes. What I've learned the most is that people do NOT cook extensively. Since the majority of my students are expats' wives, I thought they would cook every day for their husbands. But this is actually not the case. Husbands are busy and often times they don't come home for dinner, so wives don't necessarily need to cook daily. Some said they cook once or twice a week. And they do not know American ingredients. It's interesting when I show a bottle of apple cider vinegar, a lot of them take pictures so that they can remember. I thought everyone knew what apple cider vinegar is.

On the contrary, I don't teach any Japanese cooking fundamentals in my cooking classes. All of my students have their own way of cooking Japanese food, mostly because their mothers taught them, so teaching Japanese cooking is not ideal. I stick to fusion recipes, which seems to be my forte.

Another thing I integrated into my classes is the actual clean-up process. All the pots and pans and utensils pile up, and in the beginning I waited to clean until the students left, and I would always want to cry. The solution? I stagger the courses. When I serve appetizers and amuses, I clean the pots and pans. When I serve the main course, I clean the remaining pots, plus put the appetizer plates into the dishwasher. So when students leave, all I have left is to put the desserts plates and tea cups into dishwasher. This efficient clean up is the key to not to get too overwhelmed by a shit load of dishes.

Once my Japanese classes get a bit more solid, I will start teaching these classes in English. I'll probably start with a make-your-own-sushi class. Stay tuned.

*If you're interested in taking a class, email Moto at
Column: MOTOism


  • Oh my! You should sell your awesome napkins too! I would buy those “grumpy ladies” napkins in a heartbeat!

    Christa on

  • If I was in NYC I would totally come to your classes. The food looks incredible and I love your funky napkins.

    sakura on

  • Very pro.
    It’s very true that a company doesn’t find or make its own procedures and experiences right away – it takes time and effort. But everything looks spiffy, both website and table setting.
    I bet many expat wives develop both heartfelt crushes and glooming, posionous envy on what you’ve got going for yourself.

    I hope I will soon find myself in your city so I can come over and sample some of this stuff, ha!

    Anders on

  • I love the visual presentation of the foods you’ve prepared, and I’m sure they must be really tasty as well. I wonder if your students are able to replicate your recipes at home just by looking at how you prepare?

    Urvashi on

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