Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Food media has become more prevalent and as such chefs hold an interesting status in society in the US and Globally. The perception of the role has changed to those on the outside and to those who call it their job. Chefs in modern day media are idolized, elevated a million times higher than ever before. Those at the top of their game and recognized by others as figures to emulate, spend their careers perfecting their craft. Jiro Ono is a master of sushi and precision. He is a chef to idolize and is the subject of a biographic film from 2011, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, directed by David Gelb.

Jiro demonstrates that while some of the duties or views of a chef have changed, most have not.

  • The chef is boss.
  • The chef is responsible for everything that gets served.
  • Quality and the experience are of the utmost importance.
  • Excellence takes practice and discipline.
  • No matter how far you have come, you are only just beginning and just learning.

This film provides a glimpse into what is required to become a three-star Michelin rated restaurant which Jiro and his team have achieved at Sukiyabashi in Japan.

A meal at Sukiyabashi can cost about 30,000 Yen (around $300) and is fast, lasting about 15 minutes. Arguably the most expensive meal you’ll ever eat and yet his patrons say it’s worth it. They don’t serve appetizers, only sushi. They’ve mastered that.

According to food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto as stated in the film there are five attributes to a great chef:

  1. First, they take their work seriously and consistently perform at the highest level
  2. Second, they aspire to improve their skills
  3. Third is cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean the food won’t taste good.
  4. The fourth is impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way.
  5. And finally, a great chef is passionate.

Jiro has all of these attributes. He is a perfectionist.

The film was fascinating to watch as I gained insight into this great chef. Each day starts with tasting the ingredients, making adjustments and ensuring everything is perfect for service. If the food is not up to par, it won’t be served. There are no shortcuts. He buys his fish from specialists, experts in the type of fish that they sell. The entire process of creating food is about process and repetition.

Jiro’s mind works on perfection all the time. He recounts that as his career evolved, he would literally make sushi in his dreams and wake up with new ideas. As the title implies, he literally dreamed of sushi. His dreams make him the best. He doesn’t care about money. He wants to make better sushi. He wants to make the best. That’s what he keeps striving for and undoubtedly what keeps him going. For Jiro, when nobody but you know something is not right, that is perfection, pride. being the best.

Jiro says, “In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.” The quality of ingredients is important but you must be able to develop a palate to discren the good from the bad. “Without good taste you can’t make good food”. As he rose to prominence he educated his palate by eating a variety of foods, just as he does now. Could this be an excuse for me to eat out more?!

3 Michlen stars is no small feat.  To paraphrase Masuhiro Yamamoto in the film, it is said that for a restaurant to earn that many stars it is worth it to travel to that country just to eat at the restaurant. Jiro is always seeking perfection and I wonder if he’ll ever feel he attained it. Probably not. What’s harder to think about is that this film is about his sons and sushi and passing the torch as it is about him. The task and difficulty of living up to expectations are enormous.

The lessons observed for greatness can be applied to any profession. As I think about the hours of practice in the kitchen and the hours of learning outside of the kitchen, I can see how I’m still at the beginning of my learning with respect to cooking as well as other areas in life. I’m glad I was able to sit down and watch a biography about such an incredible life and would recommend it to anyone whether starting out with food or even those who are highly advanced knowing they have so much to learn.


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Julie & Julia…More Julia Please

Tonight I went to see Julie & Julia with my family. We went to the 10 p.m. showing at a local theater and despite the late time were surprised that the theater we were in was empty except for ourselves. This was amazing considering all the press that has come out promoting the film.

I started reading Julia’s book, My Life in France in anticipation of the film, but was unable to read it through before the film came out. So far it has been exceptional and eye opening, providing insight into the legendary cook that goes way beyond her successful TV shows and books. I’ll admit that I was less excited to hear about Julie Powell’s story and introduction to cooking. Yes, she and I have many commonalities with respect to writing a blog food and our learning to cook, and perhaps our egotistical view that anyone should care to read our blog, but I could not find any additional contributions to the food world from her big or small post blog except for her story which has become a film. Perhaps our desires and goals are different, but I believe in give and take when it comes to anything in life, and that each student has a duty to teach what they have learned to make the world a better place. This I intend to do in the future.

I was not swayed by the onslaught of press that has come out for the film. I chose not to read any reviews and go in with an open mind and with only a cursory idea of what it was about.  Often hype ruins a movie.

Acting for both personalities was great. Amy Adams is sweet and likable as she portrays Julie Powell in this film. Meryl Streep provides a convincing and enjoyable performance as Julia Child. The acting is where I feel the film’s merits end. The Powell side of the story was definitely weaker than the Julia Child portion. The director did a great job of weaving both stories together in a non-confusing way and in the end did the best she could making a movie as my father put it “out of a story with no plot”.

Julia Child’s culinary legend is unlikely to be matched by anyone. Being able to top what she has done for cooking in society is a feat nearly impossible to top. She was an amazing person who left an amazing legacy, helping America and the world embrace the kitchen again. With the bar set high, she provides inspiration for us all to be the best we can and help others be at their best as well. Even though the movie was not a ten, it’s easy going and worth seeing even if only to be inspired. The fact that it exists is an indicator of how far and how important food has become in our society. If only it had more about Julia or perhaps if it was just a movie about her life would it have scored higher.

Bon appétit!

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Food Inc., Where does your food come from?

Do you ever think about where your food comes from? Have you ever thought about how all of the different components of the meal you are eating came to be and what processes they went through to get to your plate? Have you ever looked at the perfectly cut packaged steaks or pork chop chops or chicken and tried to imagine the animals they came from and even what part of the animal they came from? Ever ask yourself where  that apple or orange you are eating in January grew and how it became ripe just in time for you to eat it? I know I rarely do, but as my new-found passion for food grows I know I need to ask myself these questions and man others.

Last night I did something I rarely do; I went to see a movie in the theater.  I went to see Food Inc., directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner and produced by notable food writers Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan who wrote Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma respectively and was given an impactful reminder to think about and appreciate the food that I eat and where it comes from. I read Schlosser’s book almost five years ago and found it eye opening. I expected more of the same and asked myself, “How bad could it be?”. The answer to that question was more shocking than I expected.

The film focuses on three aspects of food: industrial meat production and as presented the unsanitary care and inhumane treatmetnt of animals from birth to slaughter and then similarly the industrialization and scientific modification of plant based food and closes with the legal and economic impact of the food industry on the country and people in the industry, in particular the farmers illustrating an interesting dichotomy of subservient farmers  working with major food corporations out of greed or necessity and those who oppose the production practices of the major food conglomerates and pay the price for their insolence with legal battles or financial struggles and intense government scrutiny. It also brings to light the power and impact on government policy the multi-national corporations have and how corporate profits influence decisions that affect the food supply and overall our health. The food industry is no different in this regard from other major industries that politicians are concerned about, but it does have a major impact on our health and livelihood that other industries do not.

The film was definitely tough to watch. I’m sure I’ve enjoyed watching horror movies more than the absorbing the content of this film, but all in all it is best not to turn a blind eye when concerning what goes into your body. The inhumane treatment of animals, unsafe and unsanitary conditions of food production that were portrayed as well as the economic impact and destruction of people’s lives by the major food companies were very hard to take in, a striking reminder of how far we have veered from pre-industrial times and have been removed from our food source, buying pre-packaged meat, fruits, vegetables and other food products without any idea where they came from, how they got there nor their impact on the society and the environment. The idea that food no longer has seasons, allowing consumers to buy apples, pears  and strawberries for instance and different types of meat all year round is something rarely thought about regarding food, something the film’s producers hope will change.

I’ll admit, the film did portray an impactful yet somewhat one-sided view of an issue, yet it was still eye-opening and a great reminder for anyone and everyone to value where your food comes from. Beyond the gory images and gloomy tone of the film, clear messages were given that anyone can benefit from for a healthy life.

  • Know where your food comes from
  • Buy food that is in season
  • Buy food that is local and sustainable

While thinking about the sushi for lunch this afternoon I couldn’t help but think about where it came from. The realization that my once frozen fish, vacuum sealed in a plastic bag probably did not come from a beautiful bubbling brook, river, lake or ocean, but rather an overcrowded pool on an industrial farm, fed a diet of corn rather than food it would normally consume in its natural environment was an illusion shattering thought. The burger I ate for dinner the night before consisting of meat from a multitude of cows raised on overcrowded farms knew deep in their own waste started to feel a bit unsettling.

It’s interesting to see the trend of restaurants thinking more and more about their food, promoting locally grown and grass fed beef on their menus for instance. Some do this because it is aligned with their mission while others do it because of consumer preference. Americans are starting to care about what they eat.

Watching the film and thinking about my food from farm to plate reminded me of a discussion about Thomas Keller in Michael Ruhlman’s book, The Soul of a Chef and Bill Buford’s account in his book Heat. Each chef went through a process of discovery bringing them closer to the food source while also giving them a deeper respect for it. I’ve started to get closer my food sources participating in a Meat CSA with Chestnut Farms and look forward to buying fresh and locally sustainable food from farmer’s markets. My resolve definitely has been strengthened, and that’s the point of it all. The film promotes activism and participation of consumers in legislation about food as well as getting closer to their food sources, making healthy decisions and eating better one person at a time. I am glad I went to see this movie and hope to obtain more knowledge about the issues presented in it as I continue my culinary journey.

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