"You were raised with the best dashi in the world", Maki's grandfather used to tell her with the smile of pride.
That may not have been a gross exaggeration since he was a katsuobushi (dried fermented bonito fish) wholesaler in central Tokyo, and was the chairperson of Japan National Katsuobushi Association for two decades. Katsuobushi is one of the crucial pillars of dashi, Japanese traditional stock and umami-rich culinary building block of Japanese cuisine.
Indeed, her first food was umami-bursting dashi, which was introduced to her as baby food as soon as she was old enough.
The longing for umami in everyday food hit Maki hard only after she moved to the United States and later started raising her multi-cultural family. Through her struggle in finding healthy umami-richness to feed her picky-eating mixed American family, she started making her own koji to make Shio Koji, miso and amazake.
Soon she found herself using Shio Koji in almost every dish, just like many chefs in her home country. Without a strong Asian flavor profile, she uses it to elevate umami in Italian dishes, French, East European, Latin American, and Mediterranean. She also felt comfortable and confident to feed her friends with a variety of dietary concerns and preferences since Shio Koji is simply made of fermented rice, salt and water.
Today, she is one of the few but slowly increasing number of small batch koji makers in North America, who are looking into new American ways to boost umami for everybody's kitchen.