Check In With Grain and Japanese Food Specialist, Sonoko Sakai!

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

We're happy to bring you this check-in interview with our long time friend - the multi-talented cooking teacher, soba expert, and Japanese food advocate - Sonoko Sakai.  

With over 10 years of experience teaching cooking classes under her belt (which you can register to join here), Tortoise is proud to be one of the first places where Sonoko first taught. Born in New York, and raised by Japanese parents, Sonoko grew up in San Francisco, Kamakura, Mexico City and Tokyo.  Sonoko's rich cultural upbringing shows up throughout her cooking, appearing in her innate ability to engage people from all walks of life in conversations about food that breaks down barriers and builds community. 

Sonoko is already the author of three books, Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals and Authentic Flavors (which we sell on our online store), Rice Craft (Chronicle, 2016) and The Poetical Pursuit of Food (Potter, 1986).  In addition to writing books and teaching, Sonoko works as a recipe developer, producer, creative director and lecturer on food.  

We're proud to also mention that Sonoko has been recently featured by NY Times Magazine as one of the "15 Creative Women For Our Time" .


E: How are you and how has your life changed during Covid?

Sonoko: I'm fine, thank you.  Hunkered down at home, but since I'm a home body, I don't mind.  I find myself busy with a lot of projects - I bake bread regularly.  I work in my garden daily.  I try new recipes.  I'm enjoying making Indian dishes.  I developed a curry powder for my pantry line.  I'm also working on another book project. 

E: As a Japanese food specialist, what is your best advice for how to cope during this time?  What nourishment do you think food can provide people during this time?

Sonoko: Eat a balanced diet. Eat in moderation.  Stay active.  Food is comforting. Food is restorative. 

E: What are you most looking forward to doing after Covid?

Sonoko: Going to visit my family in Seattle, Tokyo and  London.

E: What is your go-to recipe when many people are finding it hard to go  to the supermarket?

Sonoko: Stock up on curry bricks and make curry.  Japanese Curry has become very popular during these pandemic times.   Curry bricks are like bouillon cubes that you can drop in broth and have curry in less than 30 minutes.  The bricks can be refrigerated or frozen and keep for a long time so it's a great standby helper.

E: What workshops are you providing right now and how are you staying  connected to people who follow your work?

Sonoko: My webinar workshops are shorter, around 60-90 minutes, compared to the in-person workshops that could take double that time.  So I try to be organized and concise.  I've taught everything [in my webinars] from how to cook with fresh sourdough starter (feeding it is a daily ritual), sourcing local bamboo, to a two-day ramen workshop.  I teach noodle making.  I also do pickles and dumplings.  People like learning how to make things quickly,  preserving them or keeping them frozen.

You're always an inspiration to us, Sonoko!  Thank you for letting us check in with you, and for keeping the rest of us full and happy during this time.  We hope you stay safe and healthy, and you get to see your family when things return to normal!  

You can purchase Sonoko's beautiful cookbook, Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors, on our website here and register for her workshops at

Select photos taken by Rick Poon.

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