ICE offers one of the country’s largest recreational cooking programs. With over 1,500 cooking classes and over 22,000 students each year, there is something for every cook looking to learn new techniques in the kitchen. This month, Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine of the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen and the cookbook In the Small Kitchen tried a class on Essentials of Japanese Cooking with Chef Instructor Youngsun Lee. They took their “grown-up meals made with limited resources” approach to the culinary class and came back with a whole new set of skills.

As newly minted experts (we just published our first cookbook, called In the Small Kitchen), it’s easy to get a little high on our cooking abilities. In our book and on our website, we’ve got recipes from all sorts of cuisines. Some dishes, like our Spinach Pie Quesadillas are clearly bastardizations, built from trips to Mexico and Greece, and, more importantly, from the leftovers in our fridge. Others, like a Thai Beef Salad actually come from real experience eating beef salad in Thailand.

In other words with three years of documented cooking experience — albeit amateur, home-cooking experience — under our belts, we really can say we’re experts at hosting buffet parties for ten or wooing guys with our beer beef stew.

But cooking Japanese food? Bona-fide Japanese cuisine, the cuisine it takes decades to master? The one where sushi masters can pick up exactly 81 grains of rice with their eyes closed? We surely are not experts in that. But, like every other challenge that comes our way, we figured we’d give it the old college try.

Cut to a Tuesday morning. We’re hungry and huddled at the table of one of ICE’s cooking classrooms with Chef Youngsun, ready for our lesson in Essentials of Japanese Cooking. On the menu, Japanese 101 staples: dashi and miso soup, ramen and soba, sushi, negimaki, tempura and katsudon, and steamed buns with sweet azuki paste. We’ve both dabbled in ramen and soba for sure. But at making tempura and katsudon we’d be total newbies. More…