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Book Review
"The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen"
Unique Interpretations of Modern Japanese Cuisine
By Mark Buckton
Special Correspondent in Tokyo
When, about 20 years ago, former Japanese baseball star Hiromitsu Ochiai claimed his countrymen consider individualism as antisocial behavior, he took an oft-expressed opinion further by calling such attitudes the national disease. At the time standing up to the baseball mentality of practice to death "because that's the way it's always been done," Ochiai had no idea his opinions would, two decades later, be used to recommend a cookbook.

Cue: "The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen" and its author Eric Gower. As a chef based in Kamakura and San Francisco, when he combined this example of literary easy reading with an imaginative culinary brain unrestricted by formality it looked remarkably like the line in the sand drawn by Ochiai was being redrawn by an American willing to take on the still overbearing depths of traditionalism so common in the nation's approach to standard fare.

Take tofu dishes. Being flavored with anything bar soy sauce and ginger is a rarity indeed in Japanese kitchens whereas Gower, in the space of just 10 pages, teams this most simple and healthy of staples with mushroom, salmon, shiso (sashimi's green leaf sidekick) and even pistachio and mint.

Udon is treated with equal helpings of imagination with the thick white noodle being, in Gower's words able "(seems) to stand up to assertive sauces better" (than the) Kanto area's stereotypically favored soba noodle variety; udon is said to be preferred by Kansai residents.

Serving as chef and writer, his own lack of formal training emits a warm glow of reality whilst in no way hampering a beautifully photographed collection of 45 ingenious recipes that would tempt even the most stubborn of the old school.

Eirc Gower
In a cooking sense Gower graduated, as do billions worldwide from but the University of Life's culinary course; a course whose students learn the gift of normalcy, a factor his clear and concise writing style, in using both U.S. and Japanese weight symbols, demonstrates with jargon free ease.

As traditional cookbooks go therefore, this publication fails completely. It fails so gloriously and in such impressive style however, that it fully belongs on the bookshelf or, better still, open on the kitchen counter of anyone not yet afflicted with the disease to which Ochiai referred years ago — the dreaded and cancerous blind acceptance of the old ways just because ...

Publisher - Kodansha International Inc
JRP 2900 yen
Author: Eric Gower

About the author, Eirc Gower:

Born in 1961, in Pennsylvania. writer and private chef. His latest book, "The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen," was published in October 2003 by Kodansha International, and features his unique interpretations of modern Japanese cuisine.

He writes regularly on food, cooking, and restaurants for a variety of U.S. and Japanese publications. He went to Japan in 1988 after graduating with a degree in Oriental Languages (Japanese) from the University of California, Berkeley, and stayed for 15 years.

He is also the author of Eric's Kitchen, his first collection of recipes (in Japanese), and has edited and/or ghostwritten seven books by Japanese authors on international economics. He's now finishing up the text for a visual encyclopedia of Japanese food, to be published by Kodansha International next spring. Eric lives and works in San Francisco. He can be contacted at

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Mark Buckton, a Tokyo-based freelancing journalist contributes his articles to a number of world's noted newspapers including The Seoul Times.





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