Put together the bright picture of a girl, growing up in Minnesota, with her younger brother, their Japanese mother and American father. She attended Luther College in Iowa, and took her degree there in a compelling interest, music. She said: “Music played a big part in my high school years. I had a good idea that I would not continue with it in my professional life, but music is something you can take with you always.”
She spent a year in Belgium, where she often went fly-fishing. “Casting the line is artistic and always meditative,” she said. When she was living in Tokyo until recently, she traveled around on her motorcycle.
Currently, Yukari Pratt teaches classes in Japanese food at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Professionally she made her name as a freelance food and travel journalist in Tokyo. However, it is also as a sommelier that she is well remembered, and partly in its guise that she hopes periodically to return here.
As a young, versatile independent, she looked around for a calling of her own, and drew upon her mixed heritage for pointers. In 1991 Pratt joined Concordia Language Villages. Almost concurrently she attached herself to the Carlson Marketing Group. There in Minnesota, as Pratt went to work until 2000, she realized her strengths and the way she could go. She would become a specialist in making first-class Japanese food and its origins intelligible, desirable and accessible to American diners.
During those years, Pratt built her menus of Japanese recipes, took care of the purchasing of food and equipment, and hired and managed a mixed staff of Japanese and Americans. She planned events for business meetings and incentive travel, managed budgets of up to $2 million and conducted culinary tours of Tokyo. For some of her programs she handled 8,000 participants. Inventive and energetic whilst quiet and self-effacing, she found she had a natural talent for dealing with details and for getting along with people, be they Fortune 500 clients or kitchen staff.
In 2000 Pratt went to New York City for training at the French Culinary Institute and at the American Sommelier Association. In Manhattan she worked as a freelance private chef. As part of her education she was employed in the cellars for Windows on the World and other restaurants in the towers of New York’s World Trade Center. On Sept. 10, 2001, she attended a class in Tower Two. The following day, when she wasn’t attending a class, many of her classmates were killed.
The day of crisis served as a turning point in Pratt’s life. Shocked and grieving, she took stock. She had thought her work as a tour escort had given her the best opportunities for learning. Now she assessed her cellar work in New York as her most important experience. From her master sommelier there, she acquired discrimination in finding quality and value in each wine. She made her plans, and in 2003 came to Tokyo.
“I wanted to visit my many relatives, to strengthen my own grasp of the language and to widen my understanding of Japan’s culture,” she said. She also wanted to investigate domestically produced wine. She did this to such effect that the New York Grill in the Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo, wanted her.
Pratt managed the wine cellar inventory and created a wine list. As well as training staff on wine basics and service, she coordinated wine promotions, winemakers’ dinners and press events. She taught wine seminars in Japanese in her new position of first sommelier at the New York Grill.
She moved on to the department store Takashimaya in Tokyo, where she took responsibility for retail wine sales as well as many related issues. During her two years at the store, she became the first non-Japanese to pass the shochu adviser examination. She qualified for the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and presented umami, the fifth type of flavor, at a conference for chefs and other food professionals. She put in a year as a consultant.
During her Tokyo period, she was in demand as a food and travel journalist focusing on Japanese food and the food shops of Tokyo.
Pratt said, “My biggest passion about Japan is shopping for food, not only for Japanese food but also for Western food. The bakeries, chocolate shops, pickles, even knives, the shopping in Kappabashi. I will focus my energies in helping people find the great shops in Tokyo.”