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Student priests find out what's cooking

New cooking class prepares priests to provide other types of nourishment

Student priests find out what's cooking
Seminarians during a cooking workshop reporter, Tokyo

July 11, 2011

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It is a Sunday morning and five apron-clad seminarians are gathered in the kitchen at the Tokyo Campus of the Japan Catholic Seminary.  They are about to take part in a recent and rather unusual addition to their  curriculum: a cooking workshop. But they cannot start just yet; the teacher has noticed something is missing. “Where’s the mustard spinach?” she asks. “I’ll go buy some!” says one eager student and scurries from the room. These students  have only just started seminary life. As part of their focus on “communal life and service” in their first term, they are required to attend cooking workshops like this one. Their instructor is Ms. Akiko Kojima, a registered dietician and parishioner of Seijo Church in Tokyo. Sister Kazumi Ozaki of the Society of Helpers, who has been tasked with the formation of these students, is also here to lend a hand. Today’s menu is Chinese sweet and sour pork, a Korean disk of seasoned vegetables called namul, soup and dessert. The seminarians set to work, occasionally asking questions and helping each other out when needed. After nearly two hours of diligent work, the food is done. As Ms. Kojima turns off the burners on the stove, the students  give a cheer. One of them, Munihiro Noguchi from Tokyo archdiocese, says, “It was pretty difficult, but in the end it’s for our own good. For my pastor at the church I belong to, breakfast is always just toast, and lunch is always just noodles.” Kazuki Shimohara of Nagasaki archdiocese gives an embarrassed laugh as he admits that his cooking prowess is “just about limited to single-serving instant ramen. The stuff today is great!” Japanese cooking has some quite distinctive regional variations. Perhaps that is what leads Takanori Toyoda, from Osaka, to say as he eats, “This food seems like it has a Tokyo flavor.” Sulpician Father Mitsuru Shirahama, who is in charge of the first-year students, says the workshop got started three years ago after someone suggested that the seminarians themselves prepare food at the weekend, when the kitchen staff have a day off. “It’s good practice,” he adds, “because when they are serving at parishes they may sometimes be asked to cook.” Ms. Kojima uses her knowledge as a dietician to encourage the young men and help them choose a healthy diet. “When you’re living alone, it can be hard to get enough vegetables. But if you do it once, you’ll be able to do it again when the time comes.” In the second semester, the seminarians will move on to dividing the workload, choosing menus and making the food themselves. “Their cooking skills are still iffy,” Father Shirahama says, “but still, I’m looking forward to it.”
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