Patricia Wyatt, president and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, and board member Alan Nishio during an interview on Oct. 2. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Patricia Wyatt, new president and CEO for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, shared a new vision for the center with a simple question: “Who doesn’t love food?”

Seated at the JACCC next to an ofrenda shrine installed for FandangObon, Wyatt and board member Alan Nishio shared where they see the JACCC is heading as the organization marks its 40th year in 2020.

Among the major initiatives next year is the opening of the Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center, currently under construction next to the James Irvine Garden. The center will feature a demonstration kitchen that will highlight Japanese cuisine and beverages.

Wyatt began working at the JACCC last month. Besides an extensive background in both corporate and nonprofit sectors, she explained that she has a passion for Japanese food. She smiled as she talked about the joys of seasonal cuisine and her admiration for food writers such as Harumi Kurihara and Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

In recent years, Wyatt found Japanese cooking to be a release from working long days. She previously held positions as president of the licensing and home entertainment companies at Twentieth Century Fox and executive vice president of brand marketing at Mattel.

“I would like to help people like me who really want to learn more about all kinds of Japanese food, including home cooking,” Wyatt said. “I’m never going to be a great sushi chef, it takes too much training and skill, but what can I make at home for my family and friends that we can all enjoy together?

“It’s such an inspiring cuisine: the symbolism and beauty and simplicity of it. There is something about quality ingredients that’s very timely. Organic food that’s simply prepared, all the artisanal sauces and spices and condiments.”

The Kentucky-born Wyatt’s mother is from Osaka and her grandfather, Kiyoshi Masumoto, was a noted scriptwriter of silent movies in Japan.

Nishio said what impressed the board about Wyatt was her vision and willingness to listen and try new ideas. He also noted that her fundraising and development background was very important. She was chief development officer at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and led a team of 550 individuals who together raised $1 billion in one year.

“Pat is not someone who is absent ideas. She is not ‘Let’s continue doing things the way we’ve been doing it.’ She’s ‘Let’s explore things that may not work, but let’s explore,’” Nishio said.

“Clearly we were impressed by her leadership and management experience both on the corporate and nonprofits. She has overseen hundreds of staff as well as large corporations and some very complex activities. That was very compelling for us, her visions of what the JACCC could be and thinking beyond the parameters the board and staff have been thinking of.”

One area where Wyatt is less experienced is within the Japanese American community, but she seems a quick study with a maternal demeanor.

Dressed stylishly in black, Wyatt spoke warmly of meeting many new faces during her brief time in Little Tokyo. She said her daughter remarked that her new position leading the JACCC was the culmination of her career.

“With [Metro’s] Regional Connector coming, I think so many more people will want to be here,” Wyatt said. “The world has been waiting for something like this. I’m hoping that what we create here is a way for people to learn without feeling it’s education. You can come here and enjoy it, see examples of how food is prepared, you’ll learn in a very joyful way.”

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