Updated: May 30, 2022
Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live around the world.
This time, we meet Mai Yoshida who lives in South Africa. Mai was originally a nurse but a chance encounter led her to become a certified ‘salvage cooking’ chef, a fun way to prevent food waste by cooking with leftover ingredients.
Mai met her husband who is South African and they unexpectedly got married and moved to South Africa five years ago.
Even though she had never studied abroad or attended a language school, Mai simply went straight into what she was interested in and loved.
We spoke with Mai about what makes South Africa special and her work and lifestyle there.
Being a nurse and salvage chef
Mai's childhood dream was to become a nurse who could sing and dance. After graduating, she fulfilled her dream and worked as a nurse in Tokyo for 11 years. At the same time, she also loved eating and cooking, so she studied ‘brewing and fermentation culture’ while working as a nurse.
Later, by chance, Mai began helping out at salvage parties and discovered salvage cooking.
Salvage cooking is a fun way to prevent food waste. We tend to work hard at following recipes, but many of the seasonings we use only rarely or ingredients we buy in large quantities for their cheapness are difficult to use up.
Mai was so impressed with the appeal of salvage cooking that she became a Certified Salvage Cooking Chef. It not only contributes to food waste prevention but is also a way of having fun and cooking delicious food.
For example, if you want to make bean curd, you might think that you can't do it without sweet bean sauce but if you look at the ingredients of sweet bean sauce, it is made of miso, sugar, soy sauce and other ingredients. You can substitute any seasoning you have at home. Mai hopes she can make food enjoyable and tasty without being restricted by traditional recipes.
Just around that time, the government began to address environmental issues and the public began to take an interest which encouraged Mai to get a job as a salvage cooking chef.
While working as a nurse, Mai was also working as a chef, doing interviews for magazines and newspapers, appearing regularly on TV programs, and running a cooking school which was fast-paced but fulfilling.
Moving to South Africa after getting married out of the blue
Just as she was getting on track as a salvage cooking chef, her life was about to get even more interesting, Mai met her current husband who is from South Africa.
“I wasn't a marriage-minded person but at the same time I knew I might not meet anyone like him again and I had a gut feeling that with him I would overcome anything no matter where I went."
Mai had never studied abroad or attended a language school. Communicating in Japanese, which her partner spoke and with the help of a friend who spoke good English as an interpreter, they were married in no time. They then decided to move to South Africa.
Mai’s family was surprised by her marrying someone who was not Japanese and the move to Africa. Letting go of the career she had built up was a source of anxiety not only for Mai herself, but also for her family.
At the time, when she was approaching her late 30s, Mai sometimes felt crushed by the inexpressible emotions of leaving her beloved family and friends and going to a country with a different culture and history, even though it was a choice she had made on her own.
“At that time, a friend of mine said to me, 'It's enough if you live happily. You should go there with nothing. You will surely find something unique there.”
In 2017, despite her anxiety and hesitation, Mai was encouraged by her friend's words and flew to South Africa.