Katsuyo Kobayashi, 1937-2014
Yesterday, it was revealed that cookbook author and TV chef, presenter and teacher Katsuyo Kobayashi (小林カツ代) had died on January 23, 2014. (The name for her profession in Japan is 料理研究家 - ryouri kenkyuuka - a cooking researcher.) She was 76 years old. Her death was not a big surprise, since it was known that she has been ill for some time now (she had a subarachnoid hemorrhage in 2005, when she basically stopped most of her professional activities), but it’s still very sad news for me.
To international audiences, she is probably best known for her memorable appearance on the original Iron Chef. She was in Potato Battle 1. Spoiler (well it is 20 years old): she beat Iron Chef Chinese Kenichi Chen handily. Here’s the video.
(One of her books is available in English: Quick and Easy Japanese Cooking.)
In Japan, in her heyday she was everywhere, usually dressed in the spiffy black and one one-shoulder apron she designed herself. (I’ve always wanted that apron - it looks so practical.) She published nearly 200 books, mostly cookbooks but also some wonderful little essay collections. She made her first TV appearance in 1969, and was a fixture on the venerable NHK Today’s Cooking show for at least a couple of decades. She also designed kitchenware and handy household items, some of which are still in production. At the height of her career, in the 1980s to the early 2000s, she was known as Japan’s Mother.
Her son, Kentaro, is also a very popular cookbook author and TV cooking personality. I’ve always thought it was so neat that her son decided to follow in her footsteps (she also has a daughter) somehow. There are quite a few mother-daughter and father-son cooking personalities in Japan, but not many mother-son (or father-daughter) combinations.
I wrote about how much of an influence she was for me back in 2006. My list now has changed a bit…but Julia Child and Katsuyo Kobayashi are my eternal top two of all time. Neither were professional restaurant chefs, and they never pretended to be. However, they were both terrific teachers, and wrote clear, easy to follow recipes that worked.
I have lost count of how many of Mrs. Kobayashi’s books I have - more than 20 I think - and almost every single recipe I have tried of hers works, and usually tastes great. Her aim was to create home cooking dishes that were “easy, but didn’t cut corners”. That is the kind of recipe that I like to write the most too, and what I aim for for most of the recipes here, and all the recipes in my book.
This is the very first book of hers I got. It actually wasn’t a book…it was a bonus booklet of sorts included in an issue of a housewife magazine called Suteki na Okusan. It had 366 days worth of menus (I think it came out in 1996, a leap year), and a recipe for every day too. I wore my copy out so much that the cheap spine (it was a free extra after all) fell apart.
In the official announcement of her site (Japanese), it quotes her saying this:
Even if I die, I’m so happy that my most delicious recipes will live forever in people’s homes.
Japanese graves do not have epitaphs usually, but if there was one for hers, that would as fitting as any.