East meets West: Japanese women learn about Southern cuisine

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The women chatted excitedly Wednesday morning as they prepared cornbread batter, sliced sweet potatoes and fried up a batch of peach pies.
But this wasn’t a group of old-fashioned Southern grandmas in the kitchen. It was instead six Japanese women who gathered at the Belden campus of Itawamba Community College to learn how to cook American food.
The cooking class was a joint effort pulled off by ICC, the Lee County Extension Service and Renasant Bank.
“I try to make a bridge between Japan and the United States,” said Mieko Kikuchi, the Japanese liaison at Renasant who acted as a translator. “That’s why I ask for Southern culture food today – pecans, cornbread, sweet potato – so they can appreciate the culture here.”
Linda Mitchell, creative programming specialist for Mississippi State University Extension Service, and her team – Lee County Extension Director Sherry Smith and 4-H Agent Beth Youngblood – taught the women to make pecan-crusted chicken, cornbread, sweet potato chips with two different dips, chicken salad in bread cups, sweet potato balls and peach fried pies.
“In the South, we have so many dishes that aren’t healthy,” Mitchell said. “We wanted to share some that are.”
All the women in the cooking class are the wives of Japanese officials of Toyota and their suppliers.
Machiko Kato, one of the participants, said through the translator that she wanted to attend the class because she’s never made traditional Southern food.
“She said they go to American restaurants here but don’t have the experience to cook the food,” Kikuchi said for Kato. “That is why she is here.”
Mitchell said the Japanese women were all fast-learners and did extremely well in their first attempt at Southern delicacies.
“The fried pies were the most difficult thing for them to make,” Mitchell said. “You get too much filling and it oozes out. You don’t get enough and they’re too doughy. They’re just one of those things where practice makes perfect.”
ginna.parsons@journalinc.com