I’ve really been impressed with Los Angeles lately. So many amazing creative talents who are passionate about what they do and a willingness to share their unique skills with others. There’s also a very interesting hyper-focused approach that is becoming more common in the community, people who are devoted to the creation of something very specific and pouring all of their emotion into making it the best version possible….like soba. Not just any kind of noodle…one that takes practice, expertise and grace to perfect.
Recently Sonoko Sakai invited us into her home to demonstrate the beautifully focused and quiet dance that is making soba from scratch. Her attention to detail and fluid movements are similar to watching someone flow through a choreographed ballet….an incredibly inspiring process to watch.
Witnessing the evolution from a bowl of powder to perfectly cut ribbons all the way through to a gorgeously presented gorgeous summer lunch was an exceptional love song to tradition and old world practices. Each step of creation was taken with such delicate care, attention and purpose… a sentiment we should all strive to apply to our daily creative activities.
We take a moment to learn more about Sonoko’s dedication to her craft and what keeps her inspired…there’s no doubt that you will be equally enchanted by her thoughts and process, not to mention the sudden urge to frantically order up some of her fresh soba for yourself. It’s really quite amazing how different it tastes.
Name: Sonoko Sakai
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Tell us a little how soba became your passion – was there a particular moment when you knew this was a craft to take further than just a hobby?
I’ve always loved soba. It didn’t become a passion until much later in life when I discovered the distinct taste of artisanal soba. I realized how incredibly delicious soba can be when made with seasonal, freshly milled flour and skill. I knew buckwheat grew in the US but none seemed interested in soba noodles or buckwheat per say six-seven years ago. So I went back to Japan to study noodle making with several soba masters. What started out as a hobby became a passion, because the more I pursue it, the more there is to learn. Soba keeps me humble.
You have a background in corporate entertainment – how have those experiences helped you as a small business today?
I was a film acquisition executive. Looking for good films required good instincts and communication skills. These experiences have certainly helped me in my food business.
Where do you pull inspiration from and how does that influence your culinary work?
I like to be physically active. When I am rolling out the dough, I feel inspired. If I am sloppy, the work suffers. I have to pay attention.
You have a dedicated room to make soba in – tell us the key characteristics you look for in a creative space.
Clean and organized
Tell us a little about the Southern California Heritage Grain project and what you’re hoping to achieve in the next year.
I only grow grains as a garden experiment. The So Cal Heritage grain project, or Common Grains project is to help re-establish heirloom grains in Southern California. I received a seed grant from Anson Mills, which was used to kick start the project with several So Cal farmers. We are now in our second season. The farmers are growing Sonora, Glenn, Red Fife, Emmer wheats as well as buckwheat, barley and rye, and using these grains as part of their rotation crop. This is good for the health of the soil. It also brings extra cash on the table for the farmers, so it’s sustainable agriculture. To chefs and cooks, its great to have local grains because they are fresh, sustainably grown and they taste delicious.
Where do you like to take a creative break to recharge and what should we order?
I like to poke around in my garden or get on a train to Tehachapi and just chill.
What’s next? Any dream collaborations or new culinary directions that you would like to work on this year?
I would like to explore other Asian noodles, dumplings and pastas, made by hand.
Keep tabs on what Sonoko is cooking up next over on her instagram account…and for a little more hands on action, look into a selection of cooking classes (including soba making) she’s currently offering through Common Grains and Arroyo General Store!