MEDIA RELEASE: British food writer wins £2,500 to research Japanese regional cuisine

2015 Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia winner Celia Plender receives the cheque from Asia House Head of Arts and Learning Pamela Kember.

MEDIA RELEASE: British food writer wins £2,500 to research Japanese regional cuisine


Media Release

LONDON UK: Asia House is thrilled to announce that the Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia 2015 has been awarded to a British freelance writer and PhD student Celia Plender in response to her proposal to research and write a cookbook on regional Japanese cuisine.

Japanese food has never been more popular in the UK; restaurants are opening across the country and many supermarkets now stock items such as sushi rice and seaweed. Plender believes that the UK’s appetite for Japanese food is still growing and wants to showcase approachable, regional recipes and accompanying stories about the places and people behind each dish.

In 2006, Plender, 36, spent 15 months living in Japan which included time working as a chef, and has since written extensively on Japanese food and ingredients for publications including Time Out and Channel 4 Food. Now a doctoral student at SOAS, Plender is studying Japanese language in order to be able to conduct research into Japanese consumer food co-ops and food producers. Using both the knowledge and language skills gained through her past experience, Plender aims to enrich Western understandings of Japan’s diverse regional cuisines and cultures.

From thick, savoury pancakes filled with shredded cabbage and seafood, meat and vegetables topped with tangy Worcestershire-style sauce, mayonnaise and fish flakes (okonomiyaki) from Osaka in Kansai, to stir-fried bitter melon with crisp-coated tofu, scrambled egg and pork slices (goya chanpuru) from Okinawa, Plender will travel Japan widely to learn about the best food from each region. She will learn about the history and culture of Japanese food so that her proposed book will contain chapters on seasonal produce, traditional ingredients, utensils and techniques alongside compiling recipes from each region.

Plender, who lives in London, said of winning the Award: “For many years it has been an ambition of mine to write a Japanese cookbook, so I am absolutely delighted to be the recipient of the Yan-Kit So Memorial Award. Not only will this research trip give me the opportunity to enrich my own knowledge of Japanese cuisine, but also to share my passion for it with others in the UK.”

Pamela Kember, Head of Arts and Learning, Asia House said: “Celia’s passion and enthusiasm for Japanese food is obvious from the moment she begins to share her personal insights and background to her time spent working in restaurants in Japan.We look forward to hearing more about her travels in Japan’s regions and exploring new found recipes and acquired skills that we can all take home.”

Betty Yao, the founder of the Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia, congratulates the 2015 winner Celia Plender

Betty Yao, the founder of the Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia, right, congratulates the 2015 winner Celia Plender, left

Betty Yao, founder of the Award, said: “We had a very strong short list this year however the judging panel were in agreement that Celia’s proposal stood out. It’s full of new and exciting ideas, and we hope that Celia’s trip to Japan encourages and contributes towards these ideas manifesting in a cookery book!”

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About the Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia

The Yan-kit So Memorial Award for Food Writers on Asia assists first-time cookery writers who are interested in writing about Asian cuisine by providing a bursary to support travel and research expenses during the time when a proposal is being written and before a publishing contract has been awarded.

This award is offered in memory of Yan-kit So (1933-2001), Britain’s leading authority on Chinese cuisine. An enthusiastic promoter of food in Asia, she did so much to popularise the subject of Chinese cooking in Britain.

The applications for this year’s Award were judged by:

  • David Thompson, author and expert on Thai cooking, currently chef of the award-winning Nahm restaurant in Bangkok
  • Fuchsia Dunlop, leading Chinese cookery writer
  • Carol Michaelson, art curator and a close friend of Yan-Kit So