Jiro Will Put All Yáll To Shame.

Unprofessional Cookery

Yes, I know that this isn’t an article about cooking, cooking technique, food science or a recipe.  It’s about a documentary.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  A documentary about sushi, which for the most part isn’t even vegetarian.  A meatcentric movie!  Have I lost my damn mind?

Nope.  Keep reading.

I have not, in fact, lost my damn mind because I discovered that Jiro Ono will smack all of you down in the kitchen before he even unsheaths his knife.  Fact.  The man is a master sushi chef, a living national treasure of Japan and the winner of three Michelin stars.   Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn’t riveting because of what he makes (although that too is amazing in its simpicity), rather the documentary is fascinating because of Jiro’s work ethic and the method employed.  Those two aspects make the film worth a watch no matter what your preference in food is.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi centers around 86 year old Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, and how he has built his two restaurant empire with his sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi.  The original restaurant where Jiro and Yoshikazu toil every day, a tiny ten seat establishment nestled in a subway station deep in the upscale Ginza district of Tokyo, doesn’t even have a bathroom on its premises and they have three Michelin stars.  Ballin.   (His youngest son, Takashi, operates the Roppongi Hills location which has two Michelin stars.  It also includes a bathroom on site.)  How did two tiny little sushi locations get to be so famous that people would book meals months in advance and pay hundreds of dollars in cash to eat 20 pieces of sushi in a matter of minutes?

The answer is simple.  Although Jiro is a master of his craft, he humbly reinstates that he has yet to reach the limit within it.  He’s always searching for perfection when making sushi, and not once has he considered himself to come close in all his years of assembling it.  There are always better flavor combinations to be found, better presentation of the food, better quality of the ingredients.  From his demure outlook on sushi, Jiro is constantly driven to push himself harder to reach that absolute perfection he so desires.  Thus, he spends almost every waking moment at his own restaurant, ever working to achieve his goal.

Can you think of anyone here who is pushing 90 and still works like that?  Didn’t think so.

Jiro’s elder son, Yoshikazu, does most of the operations work in addition to his role on the line but he has a big rice paddle to shovel under the shadow of his father.  Every day he rides down to the local fish market to buy the best that money can buy, a job not to be taken lightly.  Dutifully Yoshikazu selects the clinging octopus and the crimson tuna from a handful of dealers that Jiro has deemed acceptable.  The highest quality (rather than the best price) is the hallmark of Jiro’s sushi philosophy as money is no object when it comes to the pursuit of perfection in your craft.

Have you met many restaurant owners who value the highest quality over the best price?  Sure, but most of them are also confined to the realities of brick and mortar business. This man just does not give a fornication.

And then comes the actual work.  Oh, the beautiful work.   Jiro Dreams of Sushi spares nothing for the viewer, which only serves as an inspiration to the audience as a whole.  First, the kitchen is nearly immaculate at every given moment.  Not just clean, but absolutely spotless.  Secondly, the prepwork involved in getting the materials ready for service shows the meticulous nature of Jiro’s mind, from gutting a tiny fish to how to massage the octopus properly in a 50 minute time window.  Then, there’s the actual assembly.  With a few understated movements, pillows of fluffy rice serve as a bed for razor thin fish awash with the perfect finishing sauce.

How many times have you kneaded octopus for nearly an hour to get just the right texture?  Not 49 minutes, not 51.  Fifty.  Exactly.  This man could whip us all into shape before we even set foot into his kitchen.

If you happen to be in New York city, take a couple of minutes out of your day to watch the master at work (preferably at IFC).  It’ll change your philosophy on how you cook and how you approach your career, probably in the regards of needing to up your game.  Be forewarned though- it will definitely sully your view on the Sushi platter for 20 that you consider buying next time around.