I am Mika.
I love food, traveling, wrapping my head around exciting projects and, most of all, providing the best for my son Magnus.
The love of food runs in my family.
My great-gandmother owned a catering house in Southern Japan offering local cuisine. My grandmother grew all of her herbs from shiso to scallions in her garden and was the fussiest when it came to purchasing the top ingredients and seasonal foods in the region. My mother was a chef’s assistant in a cooking school at a time when women in Japan were not eligible to be a full-fledged chef, and my father had a complete repertoire for cooking traditional dishes from Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, where food is considered as an art form bordering on the sacred. As for me, I went to le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and following my love for all things spicy, received training in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for regional cooking.
Beyond my family, I have been deeply inspired by discovering new flavors from my travels and connecting with people and their culture over a local meal, cooking interminable experimental dinners with friends and finding new, joyful and inspiring ways to do what we have to do everyday – eat, drink and cherish daily life to the fullest.
Born on the green hills of Kyoto, Japan, I grew up in the East Coast of the U.S., then spent most of my adult years in France. After my undergraduate studies in N.Y., I moved to Paris for my graduate studies in Philosophy and to work for the U.N. system – and ended up living in the 5th arrondissement in the Latin Quarter for 12 years. After little over a decade of working in over 20 countries, eager to experience new challenges, I resigned from UNESCO to live in Africa to work for local community projects to help alleviate poverty. I started a documentary film project/company and began to advise several personalities/private firms with their humanitarian work. Hence my consultancy firm based in Santa Monica, U.S.
None of this was planned, and if it seems ad hoc – perhaps it was. I never had the ‘grand plan’ where I had decided what my life was going to be. Perhaps naively, I just went with the flow and let my intuition guide me.
Until my son was born.
When Magnus was born in Ceder-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, he was diagnosed with a severe liver condition which led to months and months of tests and analysis due to lack of a firm diagnosis, except for the fact that the specialists believed he carried a rare degenerative disease that most certainly would lead to liver failure. It is difficult to describe what it feels like to have to bring your newborn to painful blood tests when even after the 6th needle, they can’t find one tiny vein that can produce enough blood samples. Or the sonograms of his organs for which he had to fast over 8 hours when he was supposed to be fed every hour. After weeks that turned into months of holding my wailing and pained baby in my arms in blood labs, hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ offices, I decided to do something active, rather than passively go through the necessary motions required by the medical community we came to depend on.
Needless to say, everything else stopped in my life, and along with my husband who was still based at the time in Africa and my brother, an ICU specialist at UCLA, I began to do fervent research in order to do what I could do to help my son – to eat the healthiest foods when I was breastfeeding, then to cook the most nutritious meals for him when he began solids. I found that there was not much out there in terms of cooking for babies and toddlers, except for a handful of books of varying quality. At best, a few books that emphasized cooking organic. But I needed to know more, have more options and explore new ways in which we could feed our babies.
I began to cook for my son in ways that integrated a feeding technique we use in Japan which aims to stimulate brain development – using a variety of flavors, texture, colors and temperature. The mouth and eyes are the learning receptors for babies – they understand the world through their mouths and the sensations that emanate from it.
With further research, I discovered certain ‘superfoods’ that can stimulate not only the growing body, but also the brain of a baby and toddler. From then, I was hooked. I learned about nutrition, cognitive developmental findings, cooking techniques that preserved as much of the nutrients as possible, and started to look at food as a developmental tool for children. I cooked for my son, but also began to cook for new mothers in the mother’s support groups I had joined. Cooking and eating with my son became an adventure and an educational element in our daily lives. We have fun eating, tasting new foods, talking about its origins, and experimenting with textures and flavors.
This is how Smart Bites for Baby was born.
There is a lot I need to learn and it is my hope that I can continue this journey with you – to cook for the youngest in our communities with the kind of respect we give to our most cherished dinner guests, and make food and eating joyful, stimulating, nurturing and precious for babies and toddlers – an opportunity to share and to bond.