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Kaori Baba, 56, is a cooking teacher in Tokyo. An advocate of eating local foods, Baba bases her lifework around protecting Japan’s near-extinct traditional vegetables and popularizing their consumption. Whether she’s cooking long, green pumpkins that only grow in one village in Gifu Prefecture or pureeing carrots native to Sannai village in Akita Prefecture, Baba’s goal is the same: To cook something so delicious that it becomes a big enough hit to help revive the local economy. So far, her recipes are working. Thanks to her talent for mixing and matching local vegetables and fish with current food trends, her dishes are winning over farmers and consumers alike. Baba is also a best-selling author whose two recently published cookbooks have already sold over 100,000 copies.

If you don’t know how to cook, you could have fish flying into your mouth and you would still remain hungry. In Wakayama Prefecture, the rivers virtually overflow with ayu (sweetfish). Ayu really tastes sweet, very much like watermelon. I was invited to the prefecture to find a solution to the area’s problem: In the fall there is so much fish that the locals didn’t know what to do with it all! The Japanese are very discerning about the perfect seasons for particular products. So, once the traditional ayu season, the summer, is over, a lot less people eat that fish. I came up with new non-seasonal dishes that feature the local delicacy, which includes using its tasty roe.

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