On a recent afternoon, Kay Ikeda, the owner of My Kitchen In Brooklyn – a new Japanese health food bar on Manhattan Avenue – was busy at work creating a green tea latte.
She began by steeping bags of green tea. Among the ingredients she added to the mix was a dash of maple syrup – a recipe she came up with along with one of her customers – and within minutes a cooling, light green, frothy drink was ready for sampling.
It’s what Ikeda strives for at her establishment – creating conversations about healthy food through innovation and collaboration.
But this isn’t just any health food shop. What sets Ikeda apart is her focus on the Japanese tradition of Shokuiku, which translates to food education. It’s what’s being taught to numerous students in Japan – don’t skip breakfast, eat locally produced food, and to try to eat meals together as a family.
And that’s not all. While the store offers teas, coffees, muffins, scones, and a variety of pastries – not one of them contains corn syrup – the most common form of sugar consumed in the United States.
They’re all sweetened with Amazake – a healthy, off-whitish liquid sugar substitute created with fermented rice (Ikeda’s establishment uses brown rice).
“I wanted a way to introduce a unique aspect of Japanese culture to the neighborhood,” said Ikeda, sitting across from one of the sleek wooden tables at her shop, dressed in a black, sleeveless shirt, a pencil skirt, and a set of yellow beads around her neck. “And I’m doing it by using Amazake in American food. I hope in a couple of years Amazake will be a common word used in the English language and that I will get to see kids grabbing drinks made with it rather than the sugary sweet ones they get.”
Ikeda has lived in Brooklyn for 19 years, but prior to her shop’s opening she worked at a Japanese Travel Agency in Manhattan and had very little interaction with Americans. She wanted a meaningful way to connect with the people of her adoptive country.
My Kitchen in Brooklyn came in to life in December 2013. And while it started with a small menu – as business has picked up over the months – the menu has expanded offering a range of sandwiches as well.
Ikeda gives credit to her friend, Natsuko Yamawaki, who works as a chef at the shop, not just for the growing menu, but fostering strong relations with neighbors.
“My daughter is 3 and she hates vegetables so I make her smoothies where I add just a little bit of Amazake,” said Yamawaki.
“It’s what surprises people most when they come in and try the smoothies here,” added Viola McDuffie, Yamawaki’s right hand woman in the kitchen. “You look at a green drink and think gross but then you taste it and its really good.”
For Ikeda, working and communicating with her customers is key. It’s how she came up with the recipe for her green tea latte. She was hesitant to use any kind of American sweeteners but upon the insistence of a loyal customer she decided to try maple syrup. It instantly clicked for Ikeda – and it’s what she wants to continue doing at her shop – having conversations about healthy food to create something new.
Looking toward the future Ikeda says she wants to collaborate with kids from affected areas in Japan like Fukushima – to bring them over to the States to work on projects like urban farming – where she can grow the produce for her shop, but also teach the kids to be conscious about what they eat.
“Someday I hope it will be an Amazake drink everyone will be carrying around instead of a Starbucks.”
My Kitchen In Brooklyn
359 Manhattan Avenue