Faces of NGI: Q&A with Chef Instructor Hideyo Yamada | Natural Gourmet Institute

Faces of NGI: Q&A with Chef Instructor Hideyo Yamada

Posted December 20, 2017

The NGI community is made up of faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds. In this series, we’re featuring a staff member or chef instructor to give you a taste of who we are and how we each contribute to creating a quality, health-supportive culinary education.

Hideyo Yamada is a chef instructor and certified Holistic Health counselor from Japan. She graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and the Chef’s Training Program at Natural Gourmet Institute. Chef Hideyo specializes in a wide range of cuisines from sushi to pastry, including vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and allergy-free recipes. Her classes are a hit among all, including children and senior citizens. Read on to learn more about her unique culinary experience and her journey to creating delicious, healthy recipes.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I am a sushi and pastry chef, born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I spent years traveling the world as a backpacker, visiting places including Africa, Mexico, and Guatemala. In 1991 I found out that many of my friends were in New York City, so I decided to join them!

How did you become interested in food?

My mother went to cooking classes for house wives for three years and learned Japanese, Chinese, and Western cuisines, as well as pastry. I grew up eating super delicious foods and used to enjoy helping her cook along with my sisters. From the time I was 11 years old, I was developing pastry recipes and even had my own recipe book.

What was it like to work as an assistant in a traditional Sushi restaurant in Japan?

Most sushi chefs and assistants in Japan are male because they have to carry heavy stuff like large bags of rice, fish, cases of beer, and sake. Assistants would work as servers, dishwashers, and busboys in the restaurant. I used to finish all my jobs as fast as possible, otherwise I could not touch any of the fish. Assistants were never taught how to make sushi in Japan. We were always told to simply “watch and learn.”

What was it like to be a female sushi chef?

I was taking a certificate culinary course at the New School here in New York City, and my instructor advised me to stick to what I knew best when applying for jobs. I decided to become a sushi chef because I knew that I could get the job easily, especially as most restaurants did not have a female one, so I went back to Japan and became a sushi chef.

Why did you become a pastry chef?

While I was working in a high-end Japanese restaurant, the pastry chef became sick, so I started making pastries and everyone liked it!

Can you tell us why (in terms of your health) you started working with gluten-free and vegan ingredients?

When I was working as a pastry chef, I had stomach troubles, I was always irritable and angry, and I had a lot of negative thoughts. I used to visit the doctors’ office once or twice a week and was addicted to antibiotics. The male chefs hated when I was sick, so I would do my best to not tell them anything. One day I realized that something was really wrong and that I should change my diet and lifestyle.

So, I decided to attend the Institute of Integral Nutrition (IIN) to be a health counselor. My first client was myself. I removed all white sugar, refined grains, and animal products (except wild fish) from my diet, and although I became healthier, I still felt that I needed to do something more. I was interested in studying allergies and was intrigued in learning more about gluten. It was impossible for me to quit eating gluten because I was a pastry chef and loved eating bread! I heard two messages from myself: “Quit gluten” and “Continue eating gluten, you are still alive.” Two weeks later I made my decision and quit eating gluten for two weeks to see what would happen. After just one week, I did not want to go back to eating gluten anymore. I felt like I could fly!

Why did you become a chef instructor and what has your experience been like?

After I changed my diet, all my pastry recipes were thrown away. I decided that I wanted to learn how to make vegan and gluten-free pastries, but I could not find any classes. So, I started developing recipes myself and discovered that I wanted to teach others all of my recipes. My first cooking class was “How to Make Sushi” at the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn.

I memorized all my words, which was not easy because English is my second language. The coordinator of the class was Chef Susan Baldassano who is former Director of Education at NGI. She was very strict! At the end of the class, she came up to me and told me to contact her about teaching classes at NGI.

I started teaching 2 classes a year at NGI and continued to teach cooking classes at the coop. When I showed Chef Sue my prepping skills, she was impressed and gave me the opportunity to be a guest chef at a Friday Night Dinner. After a I finished my 4th Friday Night Dinner a few years later, I was offered to be a Chef’s Training Program instructor, but I did not have a culinary diploma (I only had a certificate). In 2011, I entered the Chef’s Training Program at NGI and received my diploma. I’ve been teaching ever since. I love teaching students, especially those who are hungry to learn!

Tell us about your passions for healthy cooking.

Food changes everything. Let’s cook healthy food!