Jiro’s sushi, a story of culinary perfectionism

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I’ve recently watched a movie about the oldest  three Michelin star chef in the world, Jiro Ono. Jiro is an 87 old man who has dedicated his entire life to the most famous japanese food, opened a restaurant in the basement of a building in Tokyo and mastered the art of making simple, minimalist sushi.

Since he was an apprentice his mind was bursting with ideas and visions of sushi even in dreams. Notwithstanding the simplicity of his restaurant (the spartan venue can only accommodate 10 people a time) Jiro now boasts 3 Michelin stars. Only other 26 restaurants (out of 500,000) in the whole Japan achieved the same result.

“A perfect three star means it is worth making a trip to that country just to eat at that restaurant. Does Jiro’s restaurant deserve a trip to Japan? Not everyone agrees on that (Jiro doesn’t speak any english and can stare at you throughout the dinner). It is sure and well known that many are willing to book a table at Jiro’s at least one month in advance and ready to pay a minimum price of 30,000 yen (about 240 pounds, 380 dollars).

The movie director, David Gelb, wanted to reveal the soul of this acclaimed restaurant, where the atmosphere is far from being high class (despite the price) and nothing but sushi is on the menu. After few scenes Jiro’s secret of success is revealed: the tireless striving for perfection. The movie is the story of a shokunin (Japanese word meaning craftman) constantly pursuing excellence and harmony.

Sushi is uncomplicated food, among the most refined nevertheless. It is natural to ask: “How can something so simple have so much depth in flavor?”. A good answer is given: “Ultimate simplicity leads to purity”. Time spent in getting quality ingredients rather than in long and complicate cooking procedures can make food really special.

“Jiro dreams of sushi” is a good movie and I would recommend it even if you are not a foodie (forget about it if seeing fish being cut while still live makes you sick). However the reason why I am sharing it is not strictly related to sushi. What struck me most of it is a list of 5 attributes a great chef needs to excel. I believe the following 5 qualities outline the right characteristics to succeed professionally in any field. Whatever you are a chef or not you may find interesting the following traits of a great chef.

Top 5 qualities of a great chef

  1. Take your work very seriously and constantly perform on the highest level.  Jiro is a perfectionist. He would only take a day off if it was a national holiday.
  2. Aspire to improve your skills. Even if you reached the top you should always be willing to learn more. Yoshikazu, Jiro’s eldest son who is supposed to succeed his father’s position, says:  “The masters said that the history of sushi is so long that nothing new could be invented. They may have mastered their craft but there’s always room for improvement”.
  3. Make your work-space clean. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. Order and organizational skills are not minor details.
  4. Be impatient.  If you want to be a leader rather than a collaborator you have to be stubborn and insist on having it your way.
  5. Be passionate. A great chef is passionate. “I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old I don’t feel like retiring”, Jiro says.

Jiro’s Menu

  • HIRAME (HALIBUT)
  • SUMI-IKA (SQUID)
  • AJI (HORSE MACKEREL)
  • AKAMI (LEAN TUNA)
  • CHU-TORO (MEDIUM TUNA)
  • O-TORO (FATTY TUNA)
  • HAMAGURI (CLAM)
  • SHIMA-AJI (STRIPED MACKEREL)
  • KURUMA EBI (“CAR” SHRIMP)
  • SAYORI (HALF-BEAK)
  • TAKO (OCTOPUS)
  • SABA (MACKEREL)
  • UNI (SEA URCHIN)
  • KO BASH I RA (BAY SCALLOP’)
  • IKURA (SALMON ROE)
  • ANAGO (SALT-WATER EEL)
  • KANPYO-MAKI (DRIED GOURD ROLL)
  • TAMAGOYAKI (GRILLED EGG)

Pics: 2,3,4

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