Melinda Joe: I decided to live in Japan because of sushi and sake

Our series dedicated to international food writers continues with an interview with a Chinese-American journalist who chose to live in Tokyo

Melinda Joe, food writer born in Louisiana in a Ch

Melinda Joe, food writer born in Louisiana in a Chinese-American family. Today she lives in Tokyo and writes for important publications 

Our series dedicated to the most interesting food writers and critics of the moment continues. After French-Catalan Philippe Regol and French François-Régis Gaudry it's now the turn of Melinda Joe

When and where were you born?
I was born and raised in Louisiana. As you should know, a Southern lady never reveals her age. ;) 

Tell us about your education. How did you become a food critic? 

I graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of California at Berkeley. Now based in Tokyo, Japan. I got into journalism after starting a blog about sake and wine and have been writing about the world of gastronomy for 10 years.

How was your passion for food/restaurants born?

My parents owned a restaurant, so I grew up in that environment. As a Chinese-American family, food was always an important part of our lives. Whenever I'm not dining out for work, I try to cook at home.

When did you start writing?

I have always enjoyed writing and frequently wrote poetry and short stories as a student, but I became a professional journalist about 10 years ago.

What magazine/newspapers have you written for or do you write for today?

I am a Japan Timescolumnist, as well as the Tokyo correspondent for Gourmet Magazine Sweden and Tokyo editor of the 12Forwardrestaurant guide. My writing, which has been translated into four languages, has appeared in numerous publications such as Newsweek, Nikkei Asian Review, Conde Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal Asia, and The Cuisine Press (in Japan). As well, of course, as the IG guide!

Michimasa Nakamura, chef at Sushi M in Tokyo, a new way of conceiving the genre

Michimasa Nakamura, chef at Sushi M in Tokyo, a new way of conceiving the genre

The museum of sake Hakutsuru in Kobe

The museum of sake Hakutsuru in Kobe

What restaurants changed your life? And why?

Not a restaurant, but the food event Cook it Raw in Lapland in 2010. It opened my eyes to a totally different level of fine dining and culinary creativity. Maybe the restaurants Sushi Sho, Sushi Sho Masa, and Umi, which were my introductions to high-end sushi. Also Benu, which was one of the first restaurants to present Asian flavors -- specifically Chinese and Korean flavors -- in an ultra-refined contemporary way.

What dishes changed your life? 

Impossible to list them all but one genre of cuisine in particular is sushi. It's one of the reasons I moved to Japan! And you could say that sake also changed my life because that is how I got into writing about the world of food and drinks.

Fine dining or casual dining? Where do you think the restaurant scene is going?

In general, casual. There will be more blurring of the lines between fine and casual dining going forward.

May Chow, Happy Paradise, Honk Kong (photo Straits Times)

May ChowHappy Paradise, Honk Kong (photo Straits Times)

Daniel Calvert, Belon, Hong Kong (photo belonsoho.com)

Daniel CalvertBelon, Hong Kong (photo belonsoho.com)

In your opinion, who are the more under-rated chefs?

It kills me that when people visit from overseas, they basically only know about 4-5 Japanese chefs, when there are literally hundreds of super-talented people in the industry. One example is the newly opened restaurant Sushi M, where chef Michimasa Nakamura, working alongside sommelier Yoshinobu Kimura, offers a radically different style of sushi experience.

Who are the most brilliant young talents to bet on?

The first that spring to mind are May Chow of Happy Paradise and Daniel Calvert of Belon, both in Hong Kong.

Is there any other topic you’d like to talk about in the food industry.

I'd love to talk about how we can make the food and food-writing industries more inclusive with regard to different cultures and people of color.

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Gabriele Zanatta


Gabriele Zanatta

born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes. 
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