Foodstory: DTLA Gets Schooled
Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to filet their fish and you feed them sushi for a lifetime. This is exactly what Yoko Isassi of Foodstory aims to do in her Nigiri Sushi class. Foodstory is Yoko’s passion project turned business as she and her assistant, Mayumi, open up their downtown kitchen to educate students on Japanese cuisine and culture. If you ever wanted to learn how to buy and butcher fish, sign up for the Seafood Market Tour & Cooking class, or if you don’t have the patience to line up for Daikokuya on 1st Street, take the Ramen Run Down class to learn the aromatic art of Tonkotsu. The classes are focused on various styles, from sushi to izakaya foods, and complemented with lessons in Japanese history and culture.
In the Nigiri Sushi class, Yoko, Mayumi and Chef Kazu from Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo await students to walk into the light-filled kitchen. First, a group of newly matched couples, then a mother and daughter with a best friend dynamic, and a student who’s there to make sushi, not friends. With aprons on and name tags in place the class begins, hands get dirty and culinary comradery commences. Chef Kazu demonstrates each step with precision and intent, while Yoko interjects helpful kitchen tips that go off like lightbulbs as all students say “ahhhh” in unison. Each student takes a stab at slicing a whole red snapper into bite-sized portions of sashimi. Some are cut perfectly, some need improvement, most look palatable, but every time the knife is pulled back, students applaud and support each other with kindhearted praise. Despite the seriousness of Japanese cuisine, Yoko and her team make the experience relaxed and unintimidating as the mood stays consistently cheerful throughout the class.
This is the experience and community Yoko’s classes have been cultivating in Downtown LA since 2010. Through food, education and a little bit of sake, students can develop a better understanding and appreciation for the philosophy behind Japanese cuisine. At the inception of her introductory class, Ramen Run Down, Yoko taught a small group of friends the techniques to perfect Japan’s most popular comfort food. And like most prosperous business ventures, it just takes a few friends to support an idea and provide encouragement to achieve more. Today, Yoko offers over 12 different classes to continue her mission in providing education on Japanese cuisine in order to ultimately help elevate the quality of Japanese restaurants and exports throughout Los Angeles.
As the nigiri class wraps up, ten pieces of sushi are rolled and plated by each student. They stand proud and hungry, displaying their accomplishment for a photo like a kid at a science fair. After photos have been taken and high fives are given, everyone pulls a chair at the communal table to dine together and celebrate with a serving of chilled sake. Kampai!
Written by Janica de Guzman | Photography by Kort Havens