Sharpen your kitchen skills with No Recipes

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

The Internet has been good to Marc Matsumoto. In 2007 he started putting his recipes online while working full-time in marketing in New York. He watched traffic to his blog grow, interest percolate. He raced to put up more recipes. More people came by his blog. Sleep was in short supply working both the blog and the job. Three years later, he was in a favorable if difficult position: Stick with the day job and keep blogging every spare moment, or try to cut it as a full-time food blogger?

Food won. He quit marketing and poured himself into his blog.

Since going full-time with his blog at www.norecipes.com, Matsumoto has moved back to Japan. Sapporo is now home, but the snow probably sticks around longer than he does. Through the blog he is on the road about 40 percent of the year, traveling the world working as a private chef, photographer, consultant and recipe developer. When we speak he is ensconced in a compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

This March the blog turned seven. No Recipes is a misnomer; there are recipes, nearly 700, ranging from ramen to taco rice, vegan tiramisu and pork tamales. But it’s a quirky and memorable blog name, especially when a Google search of food blogs returns billions of results.

No Recipes began as a means for Matsumoto to record his successful recipes — and to publish them for his friends, because, “people would ask for one of my recipes,” but his answer invariably was: “I don’t have one.”

“I was always the kind of guy who grabs something from the fridge and tosses it in, and could never make the same dish twice,” he says. That’s not to say he didn’t know what he was cooking: He started apprenticing in the kitchen at the age of 4. “I was my mother’s sous-chef,” he jokes.

Matsumoto was born in Japan and grew up in California. Like many Japanese kids, he was raised in a home-cooking environment. His mother also taught Japanese cooking classes.

“I ended up not going to culinary school despite my mom’s strong encouragement.” Instead he opted to study communications and worked his way from California to New York, first in the tech sector — with Netflix and others — and then in marketing for several startups.

No Recipes is similar to other successful food blogs in that it is personal, recipes are peppered with history and anecdotes and his photography makes you want to cook. Or to eat what he cooks.

Matsumoto says he gears his site toward home chefs: “people who want to make wholesome, delicious food.” He focuses on single dishes, for instance wonton soup or tonjiru (pork-and-vegetable broth), instead of multi-course meals, while keeping in mind what ingredients are readily available for his readers, who are largely, but not exclusively, in the United States Through his recipes he encourages his readers to make “wholesome dishes,” whether it’s with curry, miso soup or ramen, explaining why it is better to forego instant ingredients in favor of flavor and integrity and how it doesn’t really take that much longer to do so (discounting ramen).

“With my recipes, I really try to elaborate on why I do things, for instance why it’s important to caramelize onions. And by learning that, it not only helps you make a curry recipe better, but helps make all your recipes better.”

Unlike many successful food bloggers he hasn’t gone down the route of publishing a recipe book. You get the feeling Matsumoto prefers the Web, the immediacy of it and the freedom it offers, both for him and his readers.

Last month, along with Kyoto Foodie blogger Michael Baxter, Matsumoto launched Taste Pilots, a consultancy geared at helping food and beverage companies from overseas crack the Japan market, and vice versa. They plan to utilize the power of the Web, especially American food bloggers, to take washoku west.

While many Japanese brands — think cars and technology — have global cachet, few food and beverage companies can boast the same. According to 2013 data from the Ministry of Finance, food exports accounted for ¥435 billion in a ¥70 trillion market; a share of just 0.6 percent.

Two factors could change this: the promotion of washoku, and ongoing trade discussions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership allied with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to drive up food, drink and agriculture exports as the domestic market contracts. Of course, whether the rhetoric results in change remains to be seen.

Matsumoto sees washoku as a way for Japan to connect with the world, or to decrease the disconnect between Japan and everywhere else.

“I think the history of food is absolutely fascinating, because it tells the migration of man,” says Matsumoto. He highlights tempura, originating first in Portugal; taco-rice, a Mexican dish by way of Tex-Mex and now an Okinawan favorite; and tomatoes, essential to Italian cooking but originating in Peru and first used as a decoration, “until some genius figured out you could eat them.”

And Matsumoto’s biography is certainly one of migration; food has taken him around the world. And back.