On a quiet lane in Kyoto stands an old-fashioned townhouse where, each Saturday afternoon, Aiko Koishihara, once the grand matron of a well-known merchant house, conducts a traditional Kyoto cuisine cooking class “for men only.” The four linked stories in this volume tell how four students of different ages, occupations, and backgrounds are able to make a fresh start in their lives as a result of their participation in the aging instructor’s class and the recipes they master under her tutelage.
The title story centers on budding architect Tomohisa, who enrolled in the class because the woman he is secretly in love with, Towako, once remarked that she thought men who can cook are hot. Unfortunately, he still can’t bring himself to confess his love to her. Vincent, a French patissier also enrolled in the class, asks him to be the architect for the new café he’s planning to open, but Tomohisa’s boss is opposed, and Tomohisa agonizes over what to do. Thanks to some advice from Aiko, he finds a way to persuade his boss, and is also finally able to open his heart to Towako.
Vincent is the central figure in the second story, Deaimon (Delights of the Season). Planning to quit his current job and go independent, he has begun remodeling an old Japanese house to be his new café, but then he runs into some flak from his landlord Yoshikawa. Through some things that are said during the cooking class, he realizes that Yoshikawa’s desire to nullify the rental agreement comes from his fear that the changes being made to the house will efface cherished memories of his aunt, who used to live there. Vincent invites Yoshikawa to the house and lays out a spread of sweets for him that will remind him of his beloved aunt’s cooking.
In the third story, Futari no daidokoro (A Kitchen for Two), the main character is a 20-year-old college student named Miki who comes to the class dressed in drag. He lives with his sister Juria, who has become a deep-seated man-hater as a result of their father’s alcoholism, and it is in fact as part of her therapy that he dresses the way he does. They both suffered during their childhood from a neglectful mother as well, so Miki has never actually experienced “home cooking,” and has generally been content with surviving on a diet of junk food. But through his experiences in the cooking class, he realizes that while they will never have warm memories of their own mother’s cooking as other people do, he and his sister can create their own favorite family dishes.
A metal engraver named Saeki is the protagonist of the final story, Nichijō sahan (Daily Meals). He has always left domestic matters entirely to his wife, but as soon as their two grown sons have moved out of the house, she presses him to enroll in a cooking class. He fears she might be contemplating divorce, but at Aiko’s suggestion, he decides to cook a meal for her with some of the new recipes he has learned?to thank her for all she does for him. As he is preparing to do this, however, she collapses: she had in fact been seriously ill for some time, and had pressed him to take cooking lessons so that he’d be able to fend for himself after she was gone, as well as to give him some new social contacts that would keep him from becoming isolated and lonely. More grateful than ever for his wife’s deep love, he vows to do everything he can to support her in her battle with illness.
Four savory and heartwarming tales unfold against the backdrop of lessons in Kyoto cuisine. Included in an appendix at the back of the book are seven of the recipes that play a role in the stories.