In the memoir, Cooking for Her Eyes, former Oak Park resident, village trustee and architect Susan Uehara Rakstang recounts growing up in her Okinawan family, raising her own family in the village, and ultimately serving as caregiver to both her ailing mother, Helen, and her dear friend, Margaret. Rakstang’s story of music, food, love and death is an intensely personal read centered on three women and the power of food to bond and nourish them all.

Rakstang spent eight years coaxing Cooking for Her Eyes into existence and considered herself to be an “on again off again writer” because parts of the story were very difficult to write. Emotions often forced her to separate herself from the story that gracefully jumps back-and-forth through time.

An endless parade of Japanese meals dot the timeline leading Rakstang to adulthood. She delights the reader with memories of using her well-honed origami skills to become her mother’s “best and only wonton maker.” She shares details on how to make perfect bias sliced scallions and recollects Christmas buffet tables brimming with Char Sui short ribs, table-top sukiyaki, and shrimp tempura.

Rakstang and her husband Bob arrived in Oak Park in 1976 with a toddler and an infant in tow. As they raised their children in the village, the young mother embarked on a new career path and met Margaret, a pastry chef who would become her dear friend. The memoir effortlessly recounts Rakstang serving as a “small “p” politics” trustee, navigating a male dominated industry and even stepping aside in the kitchen while her mother and Margaret whipped up a batch of caramel-colored fried rice together.

As Rakstang’s mother began to grapple with dementia, Margaret was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that caused severe throat pain and robbed her of her sense of taste. Rakstang became an advocate and caregiver to both.

While savoring fleeting moments when her mother instantly remembered how to fold wontons despite being unable to complete a child’s jigsaw puzzle, Rakstang simultaneously developed a pureed food technique designed to nurture and nourish Margaret through her rigorous cancer treatment.

Applying her architectural mind to meals, Rakstang created unseasoned purees made from colorful whole foods arranged in sculptural ways to create three-dimensionality. The whimsical, beautiful, memorable meals were plated to resemble Margaret’s favorite comfort foods like burgers and fries, pork chops and applesauce, or a colorful Cobb salad.

“It was an adventure for me. Just being in my kitchen was cathartic because I was accomplishing something,” said Rakstang. “I was able to depart from the realities of life and death that faced me every day — when I was in the kitchen I was just in another world.”

The technique allowed Margaret to feast with her eyes first and paid homage to the knife skills and artful plating techniques Rakstang had learned from cooking in her mother’s kitchen. While the family memoir is vulnerable, Rakstang describes the process of making Margaret’s meals in detail in hopes the technique will be valuable to others in need.

Cooking for Her Eyes is Rakstang’s first book. She completed it in time for her five elderly Hawaiian aunties to read and appreciate her deft storytelling. The memoir is currently among 20 books advanced to the semifinal round of the BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest and is available on Amazon and The Book Table


After advancing to the Quarter Finals in BookLife/Publishers Weekly book competition, COOKING FOR HER EYES has advanced to the Semi Final round!

*******JUST IN: CRITIC’S REPORT*******
MARCH 2021

Cooking For Her Eyes–Transcription of a Sonata: A Story of Music, Food, Love, and Death by Susan Uehara Rakstang

Susan Rakstang recalls her idyllic life as a child of Japanese American parents and her mother’s cooking lessons of delicious tastes, exquisite fragrances, and the visual art of preparing food, through her fast-paced, frenzied battle with time juggling her responsibilities as a wife, mother of two children, and working outside the home as an architect–a pioneering path not often pursued by women in the mid-1970s. When she retires, her life suddenly takes a dark turn when her mother has a stroke, and her friend Margaret, a pastry chef, receives a terrifying diagnosis of stage-four cancer of her tongue. With both women’s lives hanging perilously in the balance, she spends her days and evenings alternately tending to each of them. Learning Margaret’s cancer treatment will cause horrific pain and temporary loss of taste, Susan develops a pureed food preparation technique for her friend’s meals, focusing on the natural, visual beauty of food–and cooks for Margaret’s eyes.

Blending the detail and precision of an architect, with the color, tempo, and texture of her classical music roots, Susan beckons her readers to embrace their senses as she takes them on her journey of music, food, love, and death. Organizing her story as Beethoven structured his Sonata No. 8, C minor, Opus 13 (Pathetique), she conveys anxiety, joy, passion, sorrow, and resolution–as the maestro expressed in his sonata.

BookLife Prize – 2020
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10


*******JUST IN: CRITIC’S REPORT*******

Title: Cooking For Her Eyes
Author: Susan Uehara Rakstang
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Audience: Adult
Word Count: 83,015

Idea: “I structured this memoir as Beethoven structured his Piano Sonata No. 8,” Rakstang explains in the endnotes to her exquisite memoir of love, family, friendship, food, music and becoming a woman whose every thought and action creates art out of life itself. This is a luminous memoir that nurtures the soul even as it pleases the intellect by its aesthetic grace, brilliance and wit.

Prose/Style: The music of Rakstang’s prose is like the music that inspires her – simple and understated at times, then swelling into an unexpected lyrical beauty that overwhelms the reader with delight. Among the many hats this author wears – architect, chef, musician, daughter, mother, wife, mentor, friend – must also be numbered ‘poet.”

Originality: So many shimmering threads are gently woven into this magical narrative, yet nothing seems forced or out of place. The author writes as graciously as she has lived; it is a pleasure to be welcomed into the tenderness of her worldview.

Character Development/Execution: It is Rakstang’s gift to be able create the people she loves on the page as vividly as they appear to her in her own memories. The book is beautifully and thoughtfully constructed, with all the patient, painstaking attention to detail the author employs in creating an origami crane, an architectural drawing, a meal that is a feast for both the eyes and the palate, or a life that is rich in family, friendship, and personal fulfillment.

Plot/Idea: 10
Originality: 10
Prose: 10
Character/Execution: 10
Overall: 10.00

Report Submitted: January 28, 2021





Book review of Susan Uehara's Cooking for Her Eyes by Marc Louis-Boyard

Susan Uehara Rakstang, Cooking for Her Eyes – BOOK REVIEW #13
Book ReviewsLiteratureMarc Louis-Boyard

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