Food For Thought–Keiko Ishida

What sparked your interest in cooking?
My mum loved cooking, my grandmother too. My grandmother actually had her own Japanese pastry shop on a small island making manju (Japanese thin-skinned dumplings with red bean paste). I have two older brothers, so I’ve been helping with prep work since I was five. I was very good at peeling and chopping. I also loved to read cook books for kids. It started with making simple food and slowly, I started baking when I was 10. My mum even bought me a special pan to make crepes in. I still have it.
Having lived in Singapore, what are some factors to consider with regards to baking?
The weather and temperature, especially in hot and humid Singapore. For example, I don’t want to temper chocolate here, unless you have a room with good air conditioning. It’s crucial that you can control the temperature and keep it constant. I would say about about 23 or 24 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature—lower is always better.
Why the intense focus on creating healthy recipes?
Due to health concerns as I’ve gotten older, like trying to cut down or eliminate animal fat, I keep trying to make adjustments and replacements. Whole wheat flour has less gluten, so it’s best for cookies as it doesn’t get as sticky as plain flour. It has a better taste and aroma, and even adds some texture.
What’s the longest you’ve spent on a cake?
Seven days for a wedding cake to feed 150 people. I even have a big fridge that’s only used for storing cakes.
Any advice for aspiring bakers?
Passion. It’s very important. I bake for my family because it makes me happy. I also use local Prima flour. I’ve tried many different brands of flour, but I found that their flour is very suitable for what I do, my recipes. Use European butter and cream and Valrhona chocolate.
Okashi: Sweet Treats Made with Love ($32) is available leading bookstores.