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:
- First, they take their work seriously and consistently perform at the highest level
- Second, they aspire to improve their skills
- Third is cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean the food won’t taste good.
- The fourth is impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way.
- 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.