Supporters of Kokoro Assisted Living gathered at the facility in San Francisco’s Japantown on Nov. 6 for “Cooking from the Heart,” a fundraising event featuring cooking demonstrations and tastings by three local chefs.
The event, now in its second year, helps raise both awareness and funds for the facility. “Having the event at Kokoro puts the spotlight on the facility. It shows that we are part of Japantown and a vibrant place for seniors,” said Doug Nomura, president of Kokoro’s board.
Local chefs volunteered their time to demonstrate cooking techniques and answer questions about the food served to guests. Seiji Wakabayashi, chef at Japantown’s bushi-tei restaurant, prepared a simple pumpkin soup, fielding questions about his choice of onions (white, which he said are sweetest) and how to choose a ripe kabocha (it should make a sound like a drum).
“Because our restaurant is in Japantown, it’s important to improve the community,” said Wakabayashi, who regularly volunteers his time at community cooking events. “I’m Issei, and the people here are mostly Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei — so if I can tell Japanese culture to them, even a little bit, I’m happy.”
Taka Nagamine, Kokoro’s own chef, prepared elaborate sushi rolls, which involved cutting up and re-rolling thin rolls to create intricate patterns. The former owner of Kuishinbo, Nagamine said he enjoys cooking for Kokoro residents because they are of his parents’ generation, and many were customers at his restaurant. He strives to make sure that the residents enjoy his food, he said, adding, “Everyone has different tastes so it’s difficult to satisfy everyone.”
Chef Tsuvaa Doribaatar, a friend and former employee of Nagamine, prepared udon noodles from scratch, rolling dough into a huge circle and cutting it into a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of individual strands. Doribaatar, originally from Mongolia, worked as a chef in Japan for 10 years, and is now the chief chef at Sanuki in Japantown, where he cuts noodles daily.
In addition to the chefs, the event had between 30 to 40 volunteers, some of whom are children or grandchildren of residents, said Kokoro Executive Director Kirk Miyake. A group of Boy Scouts from San Francisco’s Troop 12, who also volunteered at the event last year, greeted guests and washed dishes. Brian Hom, 14, said the group often hangs out in Japantown, so they feel a special connection to the area. “We get to help the older citizens, so it feels rewarding afterwards,” said Hom of the day’s activities.
The event also included a raffle and live auction of tickets to Giants and Warriors games, the proceeds of which will support the center’s operations.
“Cooking from the Heart” offered a chance for Kokoro to show its success to the community, after facing financial difficulty in recent years, Nomura said. “A few years ago, due to financial problems, there was a concern if Kokoro would still be in existence,” Nomura said. “These days we are very stable, and in the past few months we are near our full occupancy.”