How Balanced Cooking Began

Hello! My name is Leanne, and I founded Balanced Cooking to share my love of Japanese culinary philosophy with you!

I went to Japan as a young culinary school graduate. I immersed myself in a rural town in the foothills of Mount Fuji with an open mind and a desire to learn. So much was foreign to me, but I was struck by how wholesome, well-rounded meals were a cornerstone of life, even for the busiest people.

What was their secret?

I discovered it was all about balance. The Japanese balance foods masterfully by using five colors, five tastes and five elements in every meal. This ancient formula is fail-proof when it comes to making wholesome meals that delight all the senses, and they are as delicious as they are nourishing.

In 2015, I began Bento Picnic, my catering & prepared foods company using Japanese culinary principles in Austin TX. Time and again people say to me, “I’ve never liked this vegetable or that vegetable, but I LOVE all of yours! How do you do it?” I’d like to say it’s magic, but it’s simply about balance.

The traditional cuisine of Japan (和食, washoku) literally translates to “Harmony Food”, so I call the concepts that I’ve learned from it Balanced Cooking. And I am excited to empower you to apply Balanced Cooking in your own life!

What Is Washoku?

Washoku is the set of culinary traditions indigenous to Japan. UNESCO recognizes Washoku as traditional home-cooked Japanese food prepared “with an essential spirit of respect for nature. These dishes are served on special tableware and shared by family members or collectively among communities. The practice favors the consumption of various natural, locally sourced ingredients such as rice, fish, vegetables and edible wild plants. The basic knowledge and skills related to Washoku, such as the proper seasoning of home cooking, are passed down in the home at shared mealtimes.”

Washoku dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) where imperial records show that food ingredients and preparation methods varied from season to season. As Makiko Itoh of Japan Times remarks, “it is no wonder that seasonality plays such a strong role in so much of Japanese food culture given that much of Japan has four very distinct seasons.”

It was during the Edo Period (1603–1868), that Japanese society grew to new levels of affluence and Washoku flourished among commoners who embraced better diets with richer variety and the relative freedom to spend time preparing and enjoying meals together. Many more people could read and write so the proliferation of cookbooks and recipes helped bring Japan’s culinary culture to full maturity.

The philosophy behind Washoku, which literally translates to “Harmony of Food,” is to include a rich variety of foods in your diet – especially seasonal, plant-based foods – and to combine them in delicious and nutritionally-balanced ways. The primary categories of composing a balanced meal according to Washoku are: Color, Taste and Cooking Methods.

• The five colors – red, yellow, white, black, and green – bring immune-boosting vitamins and minerals into balance naturally.
• The five tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter – play important roles in stimulating our metabolism and satisfying our palates.
• And the five cooking methods – water, tree, fire, earth, and metal – balance calorie-laden cooking methods with lighter, probiotic-rich ones while providing a rich depth of texture and flavor for our enjoyment.

In her award-winning cookbook Washoku, author Elizabeth Andoh insists that, “although the origins of Washoku are deeply rooted in Japanese culinary history and habits, the principles can be practiced and enjoyed outside Japan, by Japanese and non-Japanese alike. By selecting ingredients at the peak of seasonal flavor, choosing locally available foods, engaging all the senses by using a collage of color, employing a variety of food preparations, and assembling an assortment of flavors,” the benefits of Washoku can be enjoyed by all.

Chef Leanne Valenti

Chef Leanne Valenti

“Leanne navigates the kitchen with poise and purpose, displaying reverence for the food she prepares and respect for those with whom she shares workspace.”

Elizabeth Andoh
Author of Washoku and Kansha

“Leanne is well on her way to being the best in her field: attention to detail, incredible organization, commitment to quality, and unshakable work ethic.”

Chad Sarno
Vice President, Rouxbe Online Cooking School

“Leanne’s sense of design is vastly creative, sophisticated, delightfully drawn from our highest concept ideas… All of this done while being data-driven and budget-conscious, and having an endless reserve of energy.”

Shawna Butler
Producer, TEDxAustin

“Leanne’s cooking is a whole new world of flavors. I had actually started to get worried that food was not really that ‘interesting’ to me anymore; and that I had already tasted the full spectrum of flavors. Through her cooking, Leanne proved me wrong, and I thank her for showing me that there’s plenty more to be explored.”

Hector Moreno







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