One of the most common stereotypes of nerds, or otaku as they’re known in Japan, is that they cannot cook and subsist on a diet of instant noodles and soft drinks.
Kitchen a la Mode is a new cooking school in Akihabara that hopes to get otaku off their chairs and into the kitchen by providing simple, hands-on cooking lessons with cute girls.
You may remember reading about Kitchen a la Mode on our site last month. Curious as to how the school has been doing since opening, RocketNews24 sent its handsomest American correspondent (me) to Kitchen a la Mode to experience moé cooking firsthand. Check out his (my) report below!
Akihabara is the Mecca of otaku culture and Kitchen a la Mode knows how to cater to their clientele. While the school is located in a relatively quiet area about an 8 minute walk out from the bright lights and boisterous atmosphere of Akihabara Station, the interior feels like someone set up a cooking studio in the middle of a maid café.
^PVC figurines line the shelves protruding from pastel-painted walls
Anime music also plays in the background, which I didn’t realize until the Sailor Moon theme came on. Middle school was an awkward time for me.
^Refreshments are available as well
After walking in, I was greeted by a slightly older woman in a white chef’s uniform and pink apron who explained the system to me.
Customers choose what they want to cook from an original menu of four dinner meals and three sweets. The menu changes every month and each dish is designed so that it can easily be put together with only a single pot or frying pan, a consideration Japanese bachelors should appreciate given that many one room apartments in Japan have only one burner in the kitchen.
The price of each dish varies depending on the ingredients and time required to prepare it. The dinner meals, which include one main and two side dishes, will cost you 7,800 yen (US$96) on weekdays and 9,800 yen (US$120) on weekends, and take about 90 minutes to prepare. The sweets are priced at half that and take about 45 minutes to prepare.
I visited on a weekday at around 3:00 pm, far too early for dinner but a good time for a midday sweet snack. My options were therefore limited to “Chewy Crêpes♪ with Vanilla Scent”, “Melty Cheese Pancakes”, or “Caramel French Toast”.
I decided to go with the crêpes because pancakes and French toast are two of the things I can actually already cook, and also because it had a ♪ in the name.
After choosing my dish, I was told to take a seat while they call my teacher. Kitchen a la Mode recommends that you make a reservation in advance if you don’t want to risk being turned away, but the place was completely empty when I arrived and I only had to wait about 3 minutes until my instructor, Rino, came in.
Rino was also dressed in a white chef’s uniform and pink apron and looked to be in her late-teens. The manager asked me to refrain from taking headshots, but she was plenty cute — in the Japanese definition of the word. If you’re expecting to rub spatulas with a Japanese Ellen Page, then you’ll be disappointed. If you want happy genki cooking smile time, this is the place for you.
After exchanging greetings, Rino showed me to our cooking station and asked me to lift my arms up as she tied my apron for me from behind. She then took me to the sink where we washed our hands and made small talk. I learned that she likes One Piece and can speak a little English. She asked me about RocketNews24 and I told her it was the most important site in Asia. Things were starting to heat up, and we hadn’t even turned on the burner yet.
Jokes aside, Rino was an excellent teacher and I was flipping crêpes with confidence in no time.
^All the ingredients are prepared and measured out from the start
^The instructors are masters of both cooking and conversation. As long as that conversation is about anime.
^If you’ll do well enough, you’ll be rewarded with endless enthusiastic “SUGOI!”s
^Once you finish the crêpes, you can chooses three toppings and either chocolate or caramel sauce
^After choosing my toppings (crushed almond, granola and raisins), Rino took over to arrange my crêpes.
^At first I felt slightly betrayed. I thought she would have trusted me to dress my own crêpes. But she did such a good job that I had no choice but to forgive her.
After you finish cooking, you’re taken to a small table where you sit and eat alone under the watchful gaze of your instructor. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to share your food with anyone, which takes away from the fun of cooking with others. Rino definitely missed out though, because my crêpes were ace.
^So this is what it feels like to be an otaku at dinner time…
I spoke with the Kitchen a la Mode staff about what kind of customers they’ve been getting since they opened last month. Surprisingly, it’s not all otaku. “We get middle-aged women who come alone,” spoke Rino. “And sometimes groups of salarymen come by after work in their suits and neckties. They always seem to have a lot of fun.”
I have to admit that I enjoyed myself more than I had expected, and I can see how coming with a group of Japanese buddies would be a lot of fun. But would I take my American friends on their next trip out to Japan? Not unless they were into this kind of thing to begin.
However, if you are interested in trying out a class, several of the instructors can speak English and they would love to see more foreign visitors come. If you make a reservation online (try Google Translate if you can’t read Japanese) and specify in the comments section that you can’t speak Japanese, they can set you up with an English-speaking instructor. Group reservations are also accepted.
There’s no arguing that the price is steep for a cooking lesson. But if you think of it as a novel way to experience Japanese otaku culture, then Kitchen a la Mode fits the bill. It’s certainly a far more interactive affair than a maid cafe, and the food is better too—if you’ve got the culinary skill.