Udemy instructor Lisako Occi spoke to The Natural Aristocrat® about starting an online class for Japanese Home Cooking and what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Japan in 2022.
Lisako Occi teaches the class “Eat like Japanese” on Udemy.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): Would you say Japan is an easy or difficult place to pursue being an entrepreneur?
LISAKO OCCI: While maintaining a stable business is a challenge in any country, I believe that starting a business itself is relatively not that difficult in Japan.
The reason is that there is not a high level of competition, and there is a social safety net.
In recent years, although the number of people who work on the side has been increasing, working for a single company is still the norm in Japan.
Only a small percentage of young people choose to start their own businesses.
Japan is known for being a safe country, with a low crime rate, but it is also a socially safe country to live in (laughs). This is because even if you lose your job, and in the case that you lose your income altogether, there is a system in place to provide you with the financial support.
In Japan, even if you don’t have money, you won’t die hungry. There is also financial support for young entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs, and if you look into it, there is a good environment for trying out new businesses.
What Japan needs is more education that fosters an entrepreneurial spirit, and diverse types of entrepreneurial models that break people’s stereotype that entrepreneurship is something that only people with special abilities can try, which I think will encourage people.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What inspired you to start an online class on Japanese Home Cooking back in 2020?
LISAKO OCCI: A few years ago, during a trip to Malta, I went to a language school for two months but the classes were just too difficult for me. I changed my mind and thought I would find something else to enjoy, so I decided to go to a local cooking class called “Mediterranean，Culinary Academy Malta”. (*MCA Malta)
Malta is a country located in the Mediterranean Sea, where people from various countries gather, not only Maltese. A mix of people and cultures. I was lucky to learn the cuisine of many different countries in English over in Malta.
Actually, MCA Malta offered classes each month on a variety of Mediterranean cuisines, such as French, Italian pasta making, and the Maghreb and Arab Levant. After-school fun came up week after week and lasted well into the night.
My life in Malta began to shine. I had always had a strong interest in food and cooking. In that time, I met many local foodie friends through the cooking class.
Many of them became interested in Japan, and I have come to think that someday I would like to teach Japanese cooking to people overseas… Well,I am the type of person who likes to introduce people to things I like and recommend, though. (smiles)
Globally, for the people who are not familiar with Japan, I felt that the image of Japan is all ”Sushi” and I thought to myself, but there’s so much more!
However, I’m very serious about what I do, very Japanese, and I’m also a kind of a perfectionist so I had to set everything in the ‘correct way’ before becoming a teacher. But that feeling later changed as I traveled to other countries.
In Morocco, Spain, and other countries, I visited local cooking classes and local families. I got to meet real local home cooking and dining there. Sometimes I was surprised at the cultural differences in many ways.
In the middle of the class, there is something like a neighbor suddenly came into the house and a quarrel broke out. Others had this wild use of cooking knives which is very different from Japan.
The market and ingredients were also much different from ours and interesting. And it was completely different from the Japanese culture of doing everything properly.
Not all home cooking classes and the teachers were perfect. But that experiences made it easier for me to try. I was encouraged and able to move forward.
And actually, I found that what I was looking for was the cooking ideas and food culture. Something that I could only know directly from the people of the country.
Back in Japan, I started to learn various Japanese things. For example, sushi rolls, genuine Japanese cuisine ”Kaiseki”, tea ceremony (the way of tea), kimono dressing class etc…
When the whole world entered the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and online learning became more major, I happened to learn about an online platform called Udemy.
I might be able to have my own class here! It sparked in my mind. With this platform, I could connect with people from all over the world!
To be honest, it was challenging for me personally, not only to have a cooking class, but also to explain everything in English. But I’ve always wanted to be a global person, so this was a small step towards my dream.
And now I can have my own class, an online class, but I made it something that you can feel closer to me, as if you were coming to my home class! I named my class ”Eat like Japanese”
I am sure that through my classes, your interest in Japanese food and Japan will increase!
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): The difference between your course and millions of others is the attention paid to absolute true beginners. Details usually skipped on camera for being too easy are captured in full.
Were you consciously targeting beginners or is the pace your natural teaching style?
LISAKO OCCI: I wanted to make it as similar as possible to taking a real cooking class.
I wanted to capture everything. Yeah, I was consciously targeting beginners. This online class was inspired by the first cooking class I took in Tokyo.
The process was simple, easy, but they taught us the basics well. I was a complete novice cook before I went to that cooking class, but my cooking skills improved dramatically.
Actually, there was a lot I learned by going to a real cooking class and seeing all the details, like how to finely prepare meat, and the timing of the heat and so on.
Many YouTube channels and cookbooks don’t seem beginner friendly to me because, even though you can get the flow of the dish and an idea of the ingredients, they skip over things that seem obvious to advanced cooks.
I believe that it’s the easy parts omitted in other YouTube videos and cookbooks that hide points that beginners don’t know, and that are necessary tips in order to become a better cook.
I hope that people who rarely cook at home will learn how to do it step by step, and will be impressed when they are able to make a dish by themselves, just like I felt when I was a beginner.
In addition, I would like people who cook often to learn the basics of Japanese home cooking, so that they can cook Japanese food with confidence.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: In the world of social media, do you feel the visual of an aesthetic food is more important than its taste?
LISAKO OCCI: That’s a tough question.
In the world of social media, visuals that look good are of course important, but if you ask me if they are “more important” than taste, I personally would say no.
I like to do research on good food, and I often search on Instagram for restaurants I want to go to and even menus I want to try beforehand after I decide on a restaurant.
When I find a picture of a dish that looks good, if it has some comments, I will definitely read it. I am more interested in the real voices of people than commercially beautiful photographs.
I myself want to introduce foods that taste good to eat. So for example, rather than teaching how to make a ‘character lunch box’, I will show you how to make a traditional lunch box that values taste.
I would then like to introduce the use of food colors and the choice of tableware for a better visual look.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): How did you go about selecting dishes that best exemplified Japanese home cooking to the outside world?
LISAKO OCCI: The theme of Vol.1 is rice dishes, the staple food of Japan. I chose it with the following points in mind.
・Learn standard Japanese seasoning and standard menu items.
・Learn Something easy to make that you can make at home.
・Choose a Menu that has accessible ingredients abroad, i.e., ingredients that are likely to be found in supermarkets around the world.
Remembering my situation when I went abroad. For example, cooking rice, I introduced the method of cooking rice in a pot, since I didn’t have a rice cooker at home. Using a shallow wooden tub to make sushi rice is the official way in Japan, but we don’t have such tubs overseas, so I improvised using a bowl.
Basically, I aimed to simplify overly complicated processes to focus on what was important.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You seemed to have the most fun in the sweet corn video, even joking with the corn stalks. Was that the most enjoyable lesson for you to record?
LISAKO OCCI: Haha, thank you! I made an effort to enjoy doing the intro for every section.
During the recording, a lot of things happened, such as the lights for camera falling down on the sushi roll! But for the intro I was pumped up!
→Why corn rice?
We Japanese value seasonality in our meals.
In-season foods are the most delicious and nutritious.
Sugar is often used in Japanese home cooking, but when I visited the kitchen of a long-established genuine Japanese cuisine restaurant, I found that they hardly use sugar.
It is because seasonal ingredients have a natural sweetness, so it is not necessary to use sugar.
In the Vol.1 video, the seasonal menu was only sweet corn rice.
So I guess I was so excited for summer! It’s corn season! haha!
Come fall, chestnut rice, and sweet potato rice are very autumnal foods. I’ll be saying celebrating again!
Each and every year, we look forward to the food of the coming season.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Considering your love of the culinary arts, what made you a traveling pharmacist?
LISAKO OCCI: Pharmacist is my job to make a living and it is what I started out doing.
With a pharmacist license, I can work anywhere in Japan, so through my job, I can go to regional areas and work while traveling. It is fun to explore the local delicacies.
On the other hand, for me, culinary arts is what I love to do, and I will always cherish the feeling of enjoying and loving cooking. But I am not thinking of becoming a professional chef!
Professional chefs are always thinking that high quality is required, no failure is allowed, and time management is strictly considered, etc.
I feel that it would take away from my love of cooking.
I can say that it is a passion project for me to be able to teach people in the ways of what I love to do, what I truly enjoy, and have a passion for.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What’s your dream for the course and beyond?
LISAKO OCCI: I would like to make more courses and develop them into a series. I have been lucky to be able to visit so many amazing places and meet many interesting people.
Looking forward, I dream of reversing the travel process by which I mean I’d love if I could develop my program so that people who get to know me through this online course or SNS come from different parts of the world to meet me in Japan.
I knew that in the future I would have a family, or be busy with jobs and other obligations, which would make traveling internationally a little more challenging than now.
For now, I am staying put in my home country, learning more about native foods to be able to share good things about Japan, and eagerly waiting for you.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What was the most difficult dish you’ve ever prepared?
LISAKO OCCI: I don’t make very difficult dishes (laughs). There is an artful sushi roll called “decorative sushi roll”.
It’s complicated like a puzzle, so it’s difficult to make. You need to roll it again and again and practice. But when they are beautifully done, it is very impressive and fun. It is very much pleasing to kids at parties.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: How do you feel about the idea that a meal that can take hours or maybe even days to prepare can vanish within minutes?
LISAKO OCCI: I don’t think anything of it. Haha! Just joking!
As a foodie, I understand that chefs spend a lot of time preparing delicious meals that disappear in a matter of seconds.
I believe and hope those seconds will leave a great memory to the people who enjoyed the food.
The more emotional the moment you cherish that food inside your month, the more memorable for a person and I hope they can look back and say ‘That time, I had this food that was amazing etc.’.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You believe in enriching yourself at local cooking classes around the world. What are some classes you’ve taken in your travels?
LISAKO OCCI: In Spain, paella. Memories of dancing and making it merrily with everyone.
In Malta, classes on local Maltese cuisine, Italian pasta-making, and Middle Eastern cuisine such as falafel.
In Morocco, I went to some local families and learned how to make tagines, couscous, Moroccan breakfasts, and mint tea!
Japanese woman were rare, so neighbors came to see me.
I felt that Muslim and Japanese women are kind of similar in their modesty and reservedness, and I felt that we could communicate with each other.
In France, not cooking, but wine classes, medical aromatherapy, and French-style flower arrangement..
In Argentina, tango.
In NYC, tap dance class on Broadway.
I have many hobbies.. (smiles)
Next time, I would like to go to Turkey and take a Turkish cooking class!
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You describe yourself as being passionate about food, ‘a foodie’. What sparked your interest in traveling globally to try different kinds of cuisine?
LISAKO OCCI: I would just say that in my travels around the world, I was most interested in something related to food, not like the world heritage sites or some activities.
Actually I have never traveled for cooking or gourmet yet…
I would love to travel for foodie purposes someday, though.
I was always looking for a place where I wanted to live. A place where I feel most comfortable and can enjoy life.
I always wanted to change my life.
I wanted to live a dramatic life. Actually, I still want that.
When I saw the sunset in the Sahara Desert, I realized that I could go anywhere if I wanted to.
I am now attracted to Tokyo and live in Tokyo.
Living in Tokyo is not a permanent place to live, and I also see myself as possibly still on a journey.
I went to various countries, rented a flat, and was interested in the experience of living in a world that was very different from my own, and the culture of the people living there.
I wanted to collect the nice things about cultures and people’s customs from different countries around the world and incorporate them into my own life.
I like Japan, but I feel that if I lived in another country, I would discover a different side of myself.
It also enables you to step out of the invisible box you are boxed in, away from your work and professional character, and get back to your more natural, true self.
And through my hobbies of cooking and Argentine tango, I got to know the locals, and communicated with them.
It was important for me to correct the course of my life, to remember to enjoy life itself, and to reconfirm what was really important to me. That is why I was traveling.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What’s the best food in your opinion of attending one of Japan’s famous summer festivals?
LISAKO OCCI: The best food is..It’s a tough question again!
I’ll give you some.. ’Ringo ame’(Apples covered with candy), ’Ikayaki’(grilled squid with soy sauce), ’Yakisoba’(fried noodles), ’Hashimaki’(kind of Okonomiyaki wrapped around chopsticks), ’shaved ice’,…
Even if it is something you don’t usually eat, at a festival it is nice to feel the festival through the food, including the atmosphere.
Hashimaki is a food that can only be found in western Japan, and is like okonomiyaki rolled around chopsticks.
If you found it, just try it! (smiles)
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What surprised you the most about teaching an online course?
LISAKO OCCI: What surprised me the most is that I got a message from the interviewer Nir. He was my first real student.
I was glad to get to know each other from online to real life and I was very happy to know the fact that there is someone who felt my passion, love, and hard work
He gave me such a wonderful opportunity of this interview, and I really appreciate it.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Lisako!
LISAKO OCCI: Thank you!
– You can check out Lisako Occi’s cooking class on Udemy!
Follow Lisako Occi on Social Media
More Culinary Arts Coverage on The Natural Aristocrat®
Be sure to read:
Visit the Interviews section for more exclusive chats from around the world on The Natural Aristocrat®!