Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I was late in high school or maybe even college before I tried sushi.  The thought of it sounded delicious to me, and it sure did not disappoint.  In the 25 years since I have had sushi as often as I could afford it.  And I don’t mind admitting that I like it all…I am not picky.  The stuff at the grocery store?  Love it.  The places with the laminated placards and checklists?  Happy as can be.  A fancy place in San Francisco’s Japan Town…thrilled.  And I am a bottomless pit when it comes to sushi and sashimi.  Some people can eat pizza without ever getting full.  Some can consume entire bags of Doritos.  Me…I don’t ever remember being satiated by sushi.  I just want to keep eating and savoring each and every amazing bite.  The only limit for me seems to be cost. 

Fortunately, there’s a movie that will allow me to “eat” my sushi as often as I want at low cost.  I recently watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi to satisfy a craving for a documentary and raw fish.  One of the things I have always appreciated about sushi was its aesthetic.  Presentation is a priority for all foods, but it seems absolutely vital to sushi.  This movie, using music, dialogue and of course visuals really captures the sushi aesthetic and amplifies it.  My craving is worse now.
Jiro is an 85 year old sushi chef/restaurateur in Tokyo.  He is the oldest Michelin-starred chef in the world.  His restaurant is simple, sparse and really nothing at all to notice from the outside.  But his methods and care for each and every element are extraordinary.  His staff preps the seaweed over hot coals, fans the rice to cool it to just the right temperature, carefully and elegantly slices each piece of fish guided by history, tradition and optimal flavor and texture possibilities.  At the counter Jiro preps each individual piece of sushi with grace and delicacy, custom sized for each guest.  Caring for each and every element – temperature, texture, even seating arrangements – Jiro has created one of the world’s greatest dining experiences. 

But there’s a subplot that ends up emerging as the real story.  Jiro’s two sons have worked for him.  The younger of the two has struck out on his own, creating his own restaurant.  The eldest, however, remains Jiro’s apprentice at the age of 50.  His dedication and devotion – or is it obligation? – to his father and his work is the real conflict in the film.  By the end it is clear that he loves and admires his father, carries the heavy burden of one day taking over the restaurant, and is, in fact, the current architect of all the ingredients while his father gets the spotlight.  It is a fascinating exploration of familial commitment.  By the end I was comfortable believing that the son knew his influence and had confidence that he could skillfully take over the restaurant when his father passed.  Further, I know Jiro knows it; but Jiro is the sort that will die the moment he gives up his passion, so he continues to work. 

For a foodie and sushi lover, there’s much to enjoy and fascinate here.  The pictures of Jiro’s creations are stunning.  Watching the steps and detail involved in making profoundly wonderful sushi are inspiring.  Every element is an art…rice prep, seaweed, fish selection and prep, cleanliness of every plate, arrangements of settings.  Jiro has thought of everything right down to how to place the sushi on the dish depending upon whether the diner of right handed or left handed.  I found the acquisition of high-quality ingredients intriguing.  Jiro has one source for rice and only he gets the rice – the seller sells it to nobody else.  The scenes of the fish market in Tokyo are enthralling.  I would love to have someone explain the tuna auction to me.  The varieties of sea life available were incredible.  I want to try all of it. 

After watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi I cannot help but wonder what eating would be like if we put such care into all we ate.  First, I bet we would eat less.  But then imagine the sensory experience it would be.  Would it be exhausting?  Invigorating?  I don’t know, but I love knowing that there are artists out there like Jiro.  They make our world a more interesting place.        
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