Gastronomy students from around the globe are learning how to master traditional Japanese cuisine -- known as "washoku" -- in Tokyo, with the added bonus that they can obtain a diploma from one of the world's most famous culinary schools.
Le Cordon Bleu launched a Japanese cuisine program at its Tokyo campus last month, four years after the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized washoku as an intangible cultural heritage, sparking increasing demands for Japanese cuisine in the global market.
"The finesse of washoku appeals to a lot of people. It is very detail oriented and requires craftiness," Kiyoaki Deki, 55, technical director of Japanese cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Japan, explained in an interview.
The six-month diploma program teaches comprehensive skills and knowledge of authentic washoku and its culture, and has attracted a multinational student body.
"I wanted to attend this course to get more inspiration," said Lin Chen-chiang, 35, who runs a ramen shop in Taiwan, adding that he is learning something new about washoku every day.
According to Deki, a growth in health awareness is another reason why washoku is gaining popularity. "There are Japanese cuisine dishes that do not use animal derivatives, such as 'shojin ryori' (devotion cuisine). We teach that in our program also and students have been very much interested in those sorts of dishes," he said.
The Cordon Bleu network consists of over 35 institutions in 20 countries dedicated to offering top-quality culinary and hospitality programs. Established as a culinary arts school in Paris in 1895 by journalist Marthe Distel, also the publisher of La Cuisiniere Cordon Bleu magazine, it has been integrating its French techniques into a variety of world cuisines.
The Japanese cuisine diploma program consists of four certificate courses -- initiation, basic, intermediate and superior -- and the diploma is awarded upon completion of the four levels.
In the initiation course, students learn fundamental techniques such as knife skills, the philosophy of Japanese cuisine and key cooking methods -- skills they continue to develop in the basic course, which focuses on ingredients, recipes and plate presentation.
Students learn more advanced techniques in the intermediate course, where they delve deeper into traditional Japanese cooking as well as its application to regional and modern Japanese cuisine. The superior course offers the chance to refine and further deepen their knowledge and skills in order to pursue culinary careers, the institution said.
Students must stick to the curriculum, so all courses must be taken level by level.
During a lecture on "tempura," or deep fried dishes, Deki explained through an interpreter a range of topics, including the price differences for various types of seafood.
Before the frying demonstration by the chef, some students took part in slicing conger eel in front of other students. Deki provided detailed step-by-step instructions on the slicing method.
He talked up the importance in washoku cooking of memorizing recipes rather than relying on measurements.
"It is also useful to remember the ratio of ingredients when making tempura sauce, rather than in actual grams, because sometimes you don't have a scale," he said.
There was a mirror underneath the ceiling over a cooking space, so that students seated in the back of the class room could see what the chef was doing.
"You need to pay attention to the sizzling sound of fried dishes" to figure out whether the oil temperature is right, Deki, explained as the students gathered around. "It is extremely important in washoku cooking that you utilize all five senses and 'feel it'."
After fried dishes were laid out in a basket for presentation, students took photos of the food and later fried their own tempura.
"In our program, students can experience something they cannot experience anywhere else. I hope they will take those skills and that knowledge back to their own countries and spread authentic Japanese cuisine there," Deki said.