Danshi Gohan (Cooking for Men)
Last September I visited my family in Idaho for the first time in nearly two years. Getting to see my family after so long was of course the highlight of the trip, but there were as always some random elements of life in the U.S. that I enjoyed becoming reacquainted with.
This time one of these things I really enjoyed was being reminded of the wide variety of cooking shows available on the Food Network and Cooking Channel. Japan of course has its own cooking shows, but let me assure you that the American ones are of a whole different breed. Nothing on Japanese television can compare to the unique entertainment value of soft-focus shots of Giada De Laurentiis in a designer blouse talking earnestly about how much she likes piñatas. Or Paula Deen and her friend rendered speechless after eating a hamburger sandwiched between two glazed donuts. Please just take my word that you can’t fully appreciate this stuff until you move to a country where cooking shows aren’t a perfectly edited, exquisitely lit opportunity to sell Giada’s line of Target cookware and nobody talks about “EVOO” or “tablescapes.”
There’s only one cooking show in Japan that I watch with any regularity (and the fact that I do is especially remarkable since I generally dislike Japanese television and watch an average of about two hours a week). It’s called Danshi Gohan, which has no official English name but could be translated as “Cooking for Men.” If you’re in Japan you can catch it on Sunday at 11:25 a.m. on TV Tokyo. The show itself is fairly young (it only started in 2008) and seems to be aimed at a demographic of fairly young men who enjoy food and want to learn how to cook a number of things that aren’t so familiar to them like consommé soup, Indian curry, and quiche.
(Just as a note, Japanese corporations have a somewhat stricter understanding of copyright law than American ones and don’t usually consider blogs posting photographs and video as generally acceptable. For that reason when I mention Japanese television shows or other media I’m going to lean towards the side of safety and not post or embed anything that might not be allowed. For that reason, posts about Japanese cooking shows or food personalities will probably be quite heavy on the text.)
The basic premise is simple: two guys in an immaculate yet homey studio kitchen, cooking and then eating what they make on the veranda outside with at least one glass of beer. The person in charge of all things culinary is Kentaro, a slightly stocky and thoroughly nonthreatening man who almost always wears a hat (the shows website calls him the “Cooking Genuis”). Although he strikes you as one of those guys who lacks the motivation to do anything more strenuous than search vintage shops for old T-shirts, he’s actually a ryōri kenkyūka (which literally means “someone who studies food” but is basically a celebrity chef). He’s quite popular – I see his recipes in magazines frequently and his many books usually have pretty prominent positions on bookstore shelves (here’s one called Cooking Fish (Without any of the Difficult Parts). I suspect his popularity stems from his approachable personality and because his total lack of polish probably appeals to men (and women) who might want to learn to cook but aren’t attracted to anything overly complicated or fussy.
The second host is Taiichi Kokubun, who doesn’t know a whole lot about cooking but is sure willing to try (the “Eating Genius”). He watches Kentaro do his thing in the kitchen, posing timely questions and doing basic prep work such as cutting onions. The reason that Taiichi doesn’t know much about cooking is because he’s actually a member of Tokio, which is sort of like a Japanese version of the Backstreet Boys but with older members who play their own instruments. Sometimes Taiichi does get to share a recipe though, many of which come directly from his mother. Last year there was a particularly funny incident when Kentaro and Taiichi ended up telephoning Taiichi’s mother during the show to confirm that she really did mean for them to put a whole apple in the recipe for ozōni (a clear soup served on New Year’s) she had provided.
The highlight of the show for many is when Kentaro will share one of what he calls “Kentaro’s Points,” or “KP,” which are handy tips to keep in mind when making a given dish. Some of these are kind of silly but some are useful like the recent mushroom curry episode when he recommended simmering half of the mushrooms to add flavor to the broth and saving half to stir in before serving to add textural interest. But my favorite part by far is the tasting session at the end. They always show Taiichi taking a big bite of the dish of the day with a super-close shot of his face as he chews. Just like every other Japanese show, he always swallows, smiles, and exclaims “oishii!” (that’s so good!) But unlike other television personalities Taiichi is almost incapable of hiding his real feelings and I get a kick out of seeing whether he actually likes what he’s eating. If he breaks out into a huge grin, eyes shining, and starts raving about the flavor, that means he actually liked it. But if he chews for a long time, gives a wan smile, and says something roundabout like “wow, that’s such an unusual texture,” then you can be sure that he’s not taking another bite once the camera is turned off. It’s pretty entertaining.
As I mentioned above Japanese television networks are really strict about uploading clips online and YouTube didn’t have a single one, but several full episodes are available on Veoh (I found them by googling “danshi gohan”). And if anyone from the show happens to be reading this, I bet there are a bunch of English speakers who would enjoy a subtitled version…and I know just the person to do the translation!