Ever wondered what it’s like to be a pastry chef in Japan? We chatted to Nao Maeda, one of Tokyo’s pioneering gluten-free patissiers, about life, dough and sweets. She shared a few cheapo tips for a gluten-free Tokyo too.

How long have you been in Tokyo and where were you before?

I’m from Osaka (one day I’ll be an “Osaka obachan” with animal print shoes and a bag of sweets to give to random people). I lived there until I moved to Tokyo two years ago.

What brought you to Tokyo?

I wanted to make some positive changes in my career. I worked as a pastry chef (patissier in Japanese) in Osaka for nine years. Most of that time I was working at a French-style cake shop. When my partner got a new job in Tokyo, I thought it was a good chance, so we moved here together.

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Nao Maeda
Gluten-free dacquoise with natural raspberry colouring. | Photo by Carey Finn

Tell us a bit about your work life in Tokyo?

At first I continued to work as a pastry chef, at a shop in Ginza and then at a hotel. However, the conditions were a little unstable for me. Now I’m working as a baker (of bread) for a small shop – it’s more relaxed and fun. I’ve also started my own baking lessons. I realised that there are many people with allergies or dietary restrictions here, but not so many options for them. In my lessons I specialize in gluten-free cakes and sweets. I also do vegan cakes.

I do 1-2 lessons a month, usually on weekends in the Shinjuku area. A mix of Japanese people and foreigners take part. The lessons are in Japanese, but easy to understand I think. Some of the sweets we have made are dacquoise, black forest cake, Japanese-style Xmas cake (sponge), roll cakes and Mont Blanc, all gluten-free. I use free range eggs and the healthiest options possible, but I try to keep the lessons cheap! One lesson is usually about 3 000 yen, this includes all of the ingredients and equipment.

Nao Maeda
Gluten-free chocolate roll cake with banana cream filling. | Photo by Carey Finn

Briefly describe a typical day in your life?

I get up at 4:45 and have a quick breakfast, then head to the station. I start work at 7am. When I arrive at the shop, I shape the dough for the day, let it rise and bake everything. I usually make meron pan, anpan, white bread and pumpkin bread. In the afternoon I prepare the dough for the next day. When I get home I feed and entertain the cat, do preparation for my private sweets lessons, or relax. A few times a month I also teach beginner Japanese lessons at the community centre. I’m a volunteer teacher.

What do you like most and least about Tokyo?

Most: There are so many nice places to eat!
Least: The crowds everywhere, and the crowded trains!

Nao Maeda
Gluten-free milk tart. | Photo by Carey Finn

What’s your biggest expense?


What do you blow money on (i.e. what’s the fruit of all your cheapo savings)?

“Researching” other sweets and breads. And buying ingredients for new recipes I want to try.

Photo by Carey Finn

What are your top three Tokyo cheapo tips?

1) Make the most of winter bargain sales.
2) Walk everywhere!
3) Get cheapo Japanese lessons at your community center!

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