In Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s honors list, Jane Best Cooke was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire. She was awarded this distinction in recognition of her contribution to the promotion in Japan of British culture, and to a wide range of charitable and international friendship activities.
|Jane Best Cooke|
Many Tokyo residents know Jane and her husband, Steve, from the restaurant 1066, which they opened in the 1980s in Naka-Meguro. They decided to run a restaurant because, she said, “I was constantly asked about British food, and there was no British restaurant in Tokyo.” One of her aims was to present the traditional nature of British food. Another was to improve its reputation. Half a dozen years after opening 1066, Steve and Jane opened a second restaurant near Iidabashi Station. They called it Cook’s. About the same time, Jane published her book, “Eikoku Oishii Monogatari.”
Jane was brought up in a small village on the south coast of England. She was a shy child who loved horses, and loved being a backstage helper with a dramatic group her father supported. In her final school year, Jane fought shyness as she took part in debate and joined in with fellow students who were becoming aware of current issues.
She decided to study catering, with management and science. Enrolled for her higher national diploma in institutional management in Cardiff, she became very involved in student politics. She was social secretary in her second year, and student president in the third year. Already she was being drawn into community projects. She was attracted to work with the Voluntary Service Overseas. She went to teach in the Hotel School section of Evelyn Home College in Zambia.
“I loved my stay in Africa,” she said. “I had a lot of freedom, and was able to integrate various projects into the curriculum, like research into school meals and advising on the setting up of new college kitchens. Then I worked as a trading officer for the Zambian Hotels Corp. That was the kind of job we all dream of — traveling to game lodges, the Victoria Falls and so on.”
Once again in Britain, Jane worked as an assistant catering officer in a hospital, then as a restaurant manager. She picked up her theater interests again, and stage managed for the Open Theater Group at the Open University. She became a member of the interviewing panel for prospective volunteers for Voluntary Service Overseas.
“Then I was anxious to go overseas again. As the East was totally unknown to me, I came to have a look.”
In Tokyo she married Steve, whom she had met in Zambia. Together they decided to open their restaurant, appreciating the novelty for it of Jane’s two names: Best, her maiden name, and Cooke, her married name. A dozen years on, they have given up the restaurant business and offer a catering service.
Appreciated for her steady, practical capabilities, Jane is cochairwoman of the Elizabeth-kai, a friendship society for Japanese and British women. She is a council member of the Japan-British Society, and a member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Each year she helps organize the Japan-Scottish Highland Games.
Whilst 1066 was still functioning, Jane used it as head office for Refugees Assistance International Network. She said, “We met the Sri Lankan temple priest who set up RAIN, that aimed to provide centers for children displaced by conflict in their countries. We were interested as it gave us the opportunity to get closer to an organization, rather than just giving money to a group and not knowing what happened to it.” Jane and Steve, committee members of RAIN, used their restaurant’s premises for fundraising events and meetings. She reports that RAIN is now well established, and becoming self-sufficient from running a tea plantation and selling its products. “We are pleased if they are learning to live in the real world,” she said.
Jane holds the threads of her life together: her mission to provide good food, her thespian interests, which lead to appearances on the Tokyo stage, and her conscience that brought her from causes espoused by students of her time to her many deep commitments to aid organizations today. She supports Refugees International-Japan by assessing applications and recommending the allocation of funds. “We are sure in RIJ that claims are legitimate, and the money we give properly used,” she said.