GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Harumi Kurihara's Inside Out Sushi Roll was sliced and served in saimin spoons at an event at the Halekulani Sunday.
'The Martha Stewart of Japan' tells us to revel in life's little pleasures
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Pardon me if I sound like your mother, but: Sit up and pay attention. This is important. I've been told the secret to happiness, and I'm going to share it with you:
Lower your standards.
Yes, you heard right. But I'm not finished, so read on.
The idea is to rein in the expectations and relish the small stuff, like getting along with your spouse or watching the children play. It's about appreciating what you have.
COURTESY EUGENE KAM / HALEKULANI
Kurihara demonstrated how to tightly roll the ingredients in a wrapping of nori and rice, but said not to worry if some pieces hung out at the ends.
Though the philosophy may seem incongruous with society's "more is better" mentality, the advice comes from someone any red-blooded American would listen to, simply based on her astounding success.
The philosopher is Harumi Kurihara, better known in the United States as "the Martha Stewart of Japan." Kurihara is a megastar in her country, with more than 20 cookbooks, a quarterly lifestyle magazine, two television shows, and cafés and stores that sell teas she's created and household goods and clothing she's designed.
Her "Harumi's Japanese Cooking" won the top prize in 2004 at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, the Oscars of the cookbook world.
Still, Kurihara defines herself first and foremost as a traditional Japanese housewife, and that identity is reflected in all her insights.
"Appreciate the simple things in life, notice the small happinesses," she said at a lunch gathering Sunday at the Halekulani Resort and Spa. Kurihara was there to demonstrate a recipe from the winning cookbook, offer tips on housework and cooking and discuss her philosophy on gracious living.
"Cleaning windows isn't fun, but while you work, take a moment to look outside and enjoy the flowers," she offered. "Notice the sunlight and the beauty of nature. You only have one life to live."
Perhaps most American women taking her advice would be laboring over the keyboard rather than the window cleaner, but Kurihara's insights are surely thoughts to ponder from any vantage point.
Yet it is her food that best embodies both her humble philosophy and international success. Kurihara's recipes are at once authentic and simple, so that home cooks in any kitchen in the world can pull off a Japanese dish with ease and enjoyment.
And for Kurihara, that's the point.
"Please don't forget to always enjoy life," she said, as she wrapped up her visit Sunday.
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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sarah Aoyama, left, translated for Harumi Kurihara during her appearance Sunday at the Halekulani Resort and Spa.
"Tuck in tightly," Harumi Kurihara advised as she demonstrated rolling an Inside-Out Sushi Roll during a gathering Sunday at the Halekulani Resort and Spa.
"Don't worry if the crab or avocado strips stick out from the sides. That will make them more interesting when I plate them," she reassured about 90 guests, through a translator.
And true to her word, Kurihara prettied up the sliced pieces on one platter with white flowers, while on another long, slender plate, she placed pieces onto saimin spoons. The end pieces with excesses of avocado and crab lent an artsy touch.
Plus, "the ends taste best," she added cheerfully.
The Japanese lifestyle icon was in town for a luncheon in the "Halekulani Living" series, which brings in masters of various industries for intimate, interactive gatherings.
Kurihara's tips had the crowd riveted, some jotting notes in their autographed cookbooks. Combining fresh basil and mint in the sushi roll, for instance, is a fine flavor substitute for shiso leaves, which require a trip to a specialty market. And that extra sushi rice will keep better overnight in a covered Tupperware wrapped with three layers of newspaper, secured with a rubber band. The wrap will keep the rice from becoming too cold, and "the next day, the rice is just fine."
COURTESY EUGENE KAM / HALEKULANI
Halekulani chef Darryl Fujita readied a selection of Harumi Kurihara's dishes to be served to guests.
KURIHARA, referred to as "Japan's most famous housewife," spoke of her life as an average, traditional homemaker and her ascent to megastardom despite a lack of formal training in the kitchen.
"My husband was a TV announcer and he was never home. And I had never worked in my life. At the beginning of our marriage, he would take off on overnight trips without telling me where he was going. He was a very cold husband," she joked.
Kurihara would prepare big meals and wait for her husband to come home. After a time, he became irritated, telling her to develop an interest and to stop waiting for him.
"I was shocked. I thought it was a wife's duty to wait for her husband," she said. "But looking back, that was the turning point in my life."
Already known among her husband's colleagues for her delicious food, Kurihara was invited to join the staff of a cooking show at his network, cooking backstage.
That was 28 years ago, and the origin of a phenomenal path that would lead to a lifestyle empire comprising publishing, television and retail ventures.
Today, she said with a laugh, "my husband waits at home for me -- quietly."
Kurihara refered to Japanese housewives as "No. 1" for being versed in international cuisine. "They can cook Western dishes, Asian, Chinese, French -- every country's food," she said. "The Japanese, being very curious ... are well-informed cooks."
But during the past decade, Kurihara said, there's been a shift back to traditional Japanese cooking, which she defined as "simple, healthy, balanced seasonal dishes."
Moreover, she said, the interest in Japanese food has spread across the globe. Because of this, Kurihara is determined to "study English to (share) Japanese cooking with the rest of the world."
She did just that, as she walked among tables filled with folks lunching on dishes from her award-winning cookbook "Harumi's Japanese Cooking."
Guests included hotel patrons and expatriates from Japan for whom Kurihara is a celebrity, as well as curious residents eager to learn about Japanese cooking and "foodies" like the members of the Honolulu chapter of Chaîne Des Rotisseur, a food club that originated in Paris in 1248.
"I was interested in meeting 'the Martha Stewart of Japan,' " said Mirella Monoscalco, a Chaîne Des Rotisseur member. "She's so gracious, and I liked eating what she made. We'll try some of the recipes."
Charlene Lo Chan found Kurihara's food "clean and simple. The food is ... holistic. It's about lifestyle: the ease of cooking, presentation, and also, enjoying it, too."
Sandy Kodama, mother of local chef D.K. Kodama, attended with lifelong friend Sharon Fujino. "Thinking about health, there's a variety of vegetables always in there, and the sauces cut the fat. There's good balance," Kodama said of the dishes.
Fujino said the recipes didn't look necessarily easy, but some of Kurihara's tips will be helpful. "I want to go home and try the basil tip," she said. "And the presentation with the spoons -- that's not something hard. We can all do that."
A large part of what made the gathering rewarding was Kurihara herself. Warm, friendly and always ready to share her knowledge, she walked the room and spoke to all who approached her.
One Japanese man told her about how he fished everyday and caught taape, which his wife refused to eat for its lack of flavor.
Kurihara suggested he prepare it with a sauce of consommé, soy sauce and mayonnaise.
The man beamed.
WHEN SHE'S HOME in Japan, Kurihara said she attempts to create new dishes for Friday dinner with the week's leftovers.
Skeptics may wonder where she finds the time or energy, now that she's trekking the globe cooking for audiences, not to mention her two television programs and other ventures.
"I'm really a housewife first," Kurihara insisted. "I'm an early riser. I wake at 5:30 a.m. every day and cook breakfast for my husband."
But here's her real secret: "I never leave the house. The jobs come to me."
Indeed, all of Kurihara's work is done at home. Even her cooking shows are filmed in her very own kitchen. "Sometimes I don't ever go out of the house. I'm like a bird in a cage."
So it's with an emphatic "Of course!" that she responded to the question of whether she's truly the one to get dinner on the table each night.
"Getting along with family comes before success," said Kurihara. "They're more important than work."
In fact, Kurihara's business is a family affair. Her husband is CEO of her company, she is president and her son is vice president.
And after hours, with both son and daughter living within walking distance, she's able to spend quality time with them and their spouses.
"It's very important -- I've promised 10 days a year," she said of the self-proclaimed holidays she takes from her work. "There's every birthday -- that's six (days) -- and New Year's, Christmas and Mother's and Father's Day.
"In order to have a close family, you must 'tuck in tightly,' " she said with a laugh, repeating the cooking instruction that doubles as a recipe for her life.
The next "Halekulani Living" event is called "A Weekend of Chocolate, Yoga and Wine," featuring Vosges Haute Chocolate and David Romanelli, mind-body expert for Yahoo. Call 931-5010.
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Make it yourself
Harumi Kurihara recommends using a microwave to cook the carrots for this salad. The method preserves the vegetable's crispness and flavor, something difficult to achieve if the carrots are boiled.
Carrot and Tuna Salad
"Harumi's Japanese Cooking" by Harumi Kurihara (Penguin Group, 160 pages, $27.95)
3 medium carrots, peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon sunflower or vegetable oil
3 ounces canned tuna, drained
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard (preferably French whole grain)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Soy sauce, to taste
Cut carrots into 2-inch julienne slices. Place in microwave-safe bowl and mix in onion, garlic and oil. Cover and microwave on medium 1 to 1-1/2 minutes.
When carrots are lightly cooked, add tuna and dressing ingredients; mix well. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt and soy sauce to taste): 100 calories, 5 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein.
Note: It's fine to increase the amounts of the recipe, but when microwaving the carrots, cook in the amount listed in this recipe for best results.
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.