January, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

It could be argued that a top chef’s challenge today is to meet the public’s seemingly never-ending fascination with novelty/gimmicky food. Of course that’s a cynical approach. The flip side of this is sometimes true innovation and – in some cases – genius.

Maybe this desire to change and constantly adapt to meet demand is why I found Jiro Dreams Of Sushi so brilliant. You see, with all the fiddly food that is being produced nowadays, simple but perfectly-executed food is what I find myself drawn to nine times out of ten when it’s my turn to book the restaurant. Sure, there are cases when a full-on tasting menu will blow my mind. But it’s the comfort of a flawless risotto or a well-cooked steak that do it for me most often.

This movie is 80 minutes dedicated to that exact simplicity and perfection in food. It’s a documentary that follows a three-Michelin-star chef. Not your average three-star chef…if there is such a thing. This dude is 85 years old. And he makes sushi. Just sushi.

He’s been doing it since he was a teenager and, for a large part of the movie, we are taught the art of being able to dedicate yourself to repitition. Indeed, the 10 000 hour theory put forward in Freakonomics came to mind as I watched. If ever there was a good example of practice making perfect, Jiro is it.

The movie is simply shot and touches on Jiro’s upbringing and his complicated relationship with his two sons. His eldest son is 50 years old and still grafts away under his father’s guidance. Surely able to stand on his own feet, and exist as one of the best in the world at what he does, he gracefully accepts the task of working under Jiro and sees it as a privilege instead of some kind of restriction. The younger son left Jiro’s to start up his own restaurant. His father’s comforting words of “if you fail there is no home for you here” are explained in detail by both parties. Again, the acceptance of responsibility is amazing to watch.

There are some incredible  lessons to be taken from this movie, all of which tie in with food philosophies I have seen mirrored in all of our best local chefs. Here are a few:

1. Rather than building an empire and rolling out a whole bunch of restaurants, Jiro and his staff obsesses over his one small outpost (which seats 12 people). The lesson? Strive for perfection.

2. Apprentices work ten years before they are allowed to cook eggs. One, interviewed in the documentary, describes making tamago two hundred and fifty times before Jiro deemed it acceptable. And when he finally got the nod of approval he broke down in tears. The lesson? Humility.

3. Jiro’s “innovation” is so laughably simple . One of his major insights was to massage octopus for 30 minutes to tenderise it, instead of his usual 20 minutes! That was groundbreaking stuff in his restaurant. The lesson? Instead of trying to push the boundaries and re-invent food, sometimes  you need to perfect the basics first.

4. The entry price to eat one FIFTEEN MINUTE meal at Jiro’s is about R3,500.00. The lesson? If simple items are good enough, they can still be top drawer.

5. Along the way we meet a rice dealer and a tuna dealer who are both at the top of their industries. They make a point of expressing that Jiro could get any ingredient he wanted for less from other people. Instead he has committed to the best produce and he goes to great lengths to find it. The lesson? There is no substitute for getting your hands on the best produce.

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s doesn’t have exploding buildings  and the sexiest thing I saw in the whole movie was a whole tuna at a fish market. In other words, it’s for food nerds. But if you want to understand dedication to learning a craft (and perfecting it) this is worth checking out.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

 

 

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The Meat Manifesto

Instead of the first post for 2013 being another “hottest food trends for 2013″ article (we have MORE than enough of those going around at the moment) I thought I’d give you something to add to your list of resolutions as we kick off a new year. To be more precise, I thought I’d urge you to prioritise the way you eat and the way you view meat. Treat it as a new beginning and a good excuse to make some changes. This isn’t meant to be an overly-serious piece but rather a call to action to take a hard look at the shit you are eating and the atrocities that have been committed to get it on your plate. Okay, wait, this  may well be overly-serious.

Inspired by a brilliant book, by a brilliant man (The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) I’d challenge you to read, absorb and actually ACT on my meat manifesto.

2013 Meat Manifesto:

1. Don’t eat meat simply out of habit. Ask questions instead. Pause for a second. Is this meat good enough to actually provide me with pleasure or is it something that I take for granted? Will I forget this meal in a few hours? Could this meat taste better? Should it taste better? Was it cheap or expensive – and, if it was cheap, WHY was it cheap? Maybe better meat is more expansive for a reason. Maybe eating less meat, but meat of a higher quality, is worth considering. Maybe.

2. Think about the animal that gave its life for that piece of meat. Beef is cow. Pork is pig. Meat doesn’t just magically appear in your supermarket aisles. Make the connection. And then ask yourself if you are at all concerned about the way the animals were treated. Have they been fed properly? Have they been treated with respect? And are you sure? How do you know? Did you even ask the person who sold you the meat? Was there even anyone to ask? Perhaps it is time to at least try and find people who seem to be able to answer these questions confidently.

3. Think hard about the way you cook your meat. Do you do it justice? Would you like to know a bit more about how to get the best benefits of various cuts? Because there is plenty of literature out there. Meat is a luxury item and deserves to be treated as such. Arm yourself with knowledge on how to roast, braise, grill, cure etc. and you immediately start looking at meat through different eyes. You respect the meat. You respect the animal that gave its life for the meat.

4. Do you try different things with meat? Do you explore cooking techniques, textures, cheap cuts and offal? There are parts of the animal that nobody ever wants but they are often the best and tastiest cuts of the whole beast! And they’re dirt cheap. Next time you want a fillet of beef, ask yourself: why? If the (wrong in my opinion) answer is you think it’s the tastiest, ask yourself what you are comparing it to. If people explore unusual cuts of meat then the entire animal can be utilised. Another sign of respect.

5. Do you stretch the meat that you buy as far as you can? Do you use leftovers for salads, stews, pasta sauces etc. Are you creative and do you put any effort into turning one meal into two or even three? Some effort and some planning will bring surprising results.

6. Are you willing to accept responsibility? The reason animals are pumped with things like growth hormones and additives is us. And our insatiable demand. As farmers speed up what should be a natural process the animals are the ones who suffer as a result. But the farmers are shirking their ethical responsibilites only because the general public keep snapping up the resulting inferior meat. Are you really ready to stand up and accept that there is a moral dimension that needs to be swallowed along with every bite of meat.

Sheesh, sorry. I got going a bit there didn’t I? But you see where I’m coming from. Instead of making a list with things like “stop smoking” and “go to gym more” on it, do something that counts. Do something that isn’t easy. That’s the point of change isn’t it?

Go forth and eat,

Andy

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