Christine looks far different from the Japanese cooking teachers we sometimes see on YouTube (Cooking with Dog, anyone?). As a half-Japanese, half-British, self-proclaimed nomad living in Zurich, Switzerland, she teaches the art of Japanese cooking as a traveling chef.
Name: Christine Syrad
Suitless Pursuit: Owner of Reikalein, a Japanese cooking service that offers education on sugar-free lifestyle
Why did you decide to start teaching Japanese cooking in Zurich?
I have been known to spend an entire weekend devoted to food, starting from spending a few hours at the local farmer’s market and ending with me cooking meals for my boyfriend and friends or experimenting with new ingredients. So this obsession with food took on a life of its own and has led to my teaching Japanese cooking and doing talks about sugar-free living on an ad hoc basis.
Why Japanese food?
So many people ask me to teach them how to cook sushi or they ask me where the best Japanese restaurant in Zurich is. I want to open people's eyes to two things when it comes to Japanese food: there is more to it than sushi and it doesn't have to bankrupt you.
What does your service look like?
It comes in two different formats: I bring ingredients and equipment to a student’s kitchen and conduct a workshop or dinner service. If it’s a workshop, I teach how to prepare four dishes and we’ll eat them afterwards. If it’s a dinner service, I will go to their place and cook for a pre-approved number of courses and guests.
Do you get all of your ingredients from the farmer’s market like you were saying?
Yes - all ingredients are sourced from the local farmer’s market. The produce is all fresh and in line with my strong belief in quality-focused, sustainable food production.
What do you do for a living?
I work in private banking (in one of the world's private banking capitals!) on the Japan team and I've been here for 1.5 years. Before that I worked in online marketing for three years. It's probably fair to say my career has been a little unorthodox thus far, seeing as I studied English and Italian literature. So I figured, how much harm could a few more hairpin bends really do?
What are your hopes for Reikalein?
It’s a way for me to gauge if there’s enough demand in Zurich for authentic Japanese food. It's also a way for me to practice cooking for/with strangers - something I hope to do in a more direct way in the future. I want to keep doing this until I feel ready to move on to a pop-up restaurant. The ultimate goal is to one day have my own establishment where I'll merge my passion for cooking Japanese, Italian and British cuisine with my focus on sugar-free dishes. A cafe is what I'm loosely envisioning. I also hope to offer a niche product: fructose-free ice cream.
Fructose-free ice cream sounds like an oxymoron. Can you elaborate on fructose-free cooking?
It’s basically taking anything that would normally contain sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc. and remodeling it to accommodate a rice syrup substitution (rice syrup is fructose-free). I've been battling my sugar addiction for a few years and I’m finally off the stuff for good. Rice syrup, due to it containing no fructose, is not addictive, so it's an ideal substitute for anyone who is living a sugar-free lifestyle. It should still be considered a treat, but it's far less likely you'll be derailed than if you go for actual sugar. In my case, moderation is not an option when it comes to sugar. My relationship with it is like that of a smoker's to cigarettes - you don't quit and then indulge in one or two a month, it just doesn't work that way. There’s a surprising level of interest in the topic, and I do talks and tastings as well.
What was your first talk like?
Frankly, it blew me away. I didn't expect such a warm reception; it was really encouraging. More people are waking up to the idea that their sugar consumption is excessive and I'm so happy to offer practical advice on managing it.
And your first cooking class?
It made me realize that imparting my knowledge about food is something I find really satisfying. The company was great, the food was appreciated and I felt I was doing something useful for someone. What more could I have asked for in a job?
After all is said and done, what’s your life-long goal?
It’s to be happy and to make others happy through an activity that makes me happy. That's all, really.
In other words, one thing the corporate world has taught me is that while financial stability is nothing to sniff at, making money shouldn’t be the end-goal. Ideally, money should be a by-product of using your talent and the skills you've developed.
What’s your advice for people who want to follow their passions?
If you have found something you can't stop obsessing over, like I have, give it time to develop into something of value. Just because you love fish and chips more than the average person, it doesn't mean you should drop everything, move to the seaside and batter all manner of sea life. You need to let your obsession mature, to become part of who you are before you make any sort of leap. This is what I keep telling myself and it will keep me sane until the moment I finally have a concrete picture of where I'm going. Once the concrete is set, I'll take my first real step. Until then, I will just have to learn to improve my juggling skills.