Keiko Aoki, is the founder of Altesse, a New York consultancy firm, and the owner of an eponymous U.S. catering company that specializes in Japanese home cooking. Bitten by the business bug from the minute she flew to the Big Apple in 1985, Aoki’s itch to succeed kept her working during most of the ’80s and ’90s. Although she started from scratch, by the mid-’90s her company had swelled into a $15 million-a-year business. Aoki brought the Wonderbra to Japan, developed products with German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, and advised the Spanish government on the Balearic Islands. Single and successful, it wasn’t until 2000 that Keiko finally met her perfect match in Rocky Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant empire, and the two cooked up a storm until Rocky’s death in 2008.
If it’s Japanese and smells funny, it’s probably good for you. The Japanese diet is the best: It includes lots of enzymes from soy sauce, miso and natto (fermented soybeans), which are all very healthy.
If you want to take a seat at the table, first you need be able to stand on your own two feet. When I was in my 20s, I walked down Fifth Avenue for the first time. As I set my eyes on the gorgeous facade of the Olympic Tower, I knew that’s where I’d have my office and home. I used $300 to establish my company and began peddling bags and jewelry. I was on my way to the top, the only question was how long it would take me to get there.
When “Let’s go out!” turns into “Let’s stay in!”, you know you’re a happy couple. Before I met Rocky, I wasn’t a big cook. We both had the same lifestyle, eating out and socializing. But once we were together, staying at home gave us both such a nice feeling. We ate a simple meal, watched TV and lounged on the sofa. Home is where the cooking is, I thought.
Cooking transforms not just the ingredients but people, too. Rocky was a huge playboy but thanks to home cooking, he became a homebody. And I turned into a housewife: I cooked almost every day, and realized that I loved it.
My mother used to say that even if everyone goes to the right, if I believed a left turn was better, I should go left. She was brought up in a very conservative family in which everyone was always going to the right. “You’re different, so be different,” she would tell me.
Don’t be so crazy about DNA. I don’t understand the fuss about the need to have one’s bloodline continue. If we can love our pets, even though they are not from our own bodies, then we can love a child even if we are not their birth parents.
Two single people have no reason not to get married. Rocky and I were always together, and we were very happy. One day I just said, “Hmm, maybe we’ll get married.” “Now, that’s a good idea,” he replied.
The traits that make a man great also make him hard to live with. Rocky loved danger: If someone warned him that if he pushed a button, he’d blow up, he’d immediately have his finger on the button.
I would wake up and find men sleeping in our living room. When I asked Rocky, “Who’re these guys?” he’d just say, “I dunno. They must have followed me home.” That was life with Rocky. Never a dull moment!
You can’t have everything. If you have lots of money, you’ll lose something else. But somehow life is fair, even though it seems so unfair — the field gets leveled. I had it all, then met Rocky, got true happiness and soon lost him.
I believe in the ability of animals to judge character. My little dog loved Rocky, and he adored her. When I had to go to Japan on business, Rocky said he wanted to take care of her. We had just met, and he already had my car and my dog at his house. I figured that I was next.
No matter how successful and wealthy a woman is, if she dates a man with more money than her, she’ll be called a gold digger. I met Rocky when he hired my company to advise him on his business. I already had made enough money to last me a lifetime, yet some people thought I was after his fortune. It was nonsense, but it made sense to them.
“Do you know why women live longer? Because they don’t have a wife.” Rocky was so funny — he was always cracking jokes. One of his favorites was “Money is not everything. It’s only 99 percent.” I miss him so much.
Divorced people can easily marry again as they tend to remember the negative about their partners. When someone’s spouse has died, though, it’s very hard as they often only have happy memories.
Successful people all have one thing in common: a childish streak. They do whatever they like with all their heart.