Foodie Movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

3.16.12 - "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

3.16.12 - "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Photo credit: moviesinla)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about 85-year-old Jiro Ono, a three-Michelin-star sushi chef in Tokyo. He owns and operates a 10-seat sushi bar of incomparable quality. His standards are high and he has been obsessed with producing excellent sushi since he was a teenager.

I highly recommend this movie for anyone interested in food, anyone who wants to work with food professionally, or anyone who loves beautiful cinematography. You do not have to be into sushi to enjoy the film, although I think that helps.

The way the sushi was depicted was gorgeous, and the music complemented the subject matter very well. I was afraid that a movie about such a topic would get old, but the film artfully tells a variety of stories: Jiro’s relationships to his elders and sons, how Jiro achieves excellence, how he is developing future sushi masters, how it feels to be a student of Jiro, how Jiro sources his fish, etc. They even touch on the topic of overfishing and ecology.

A few quotes and ideas that stuck with me:

  • Leaders want things their way and that is good. The job of a leader is to set clear expectations for others to achieve, not to be a collaborator or team member. This was Jiro’s approach and he got excellent results.
  • Perfection is the mark of an excellent chef.
  • Always striving to reach higher levels of performance is another mark of a great chef.
  • In order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food.

Foodie Movie: How to Cook Your Life

I watched the movie “How to Cook Your Life” on Netflix recently and really enjoyed the philosophy shared by the film’s subject, Edward Espe Brown. Brown is a Zen teacher and, according to Wikipedia, he is one of the founders of Greens restaurant, a critically acclaimed vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. Brown was once the cook at the Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California.

Edward Espe Brown

Edward Espe Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the quotes Brown shared in the film….

  • “When you are cooking you’re not just working on food, you are working on yourself.”
  • “Study food – study cooking, happiness and joy. Study what it is you want in your life.”
  • “We are cooking the food but in practice the food is cooking us.”
  • “Handle the ingredients, pots and tools as you would your own eyes.”
  • “When you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. A lot of time we have stuff on our minds. Take care of the activity.”
  • “Cooking brings your hands nourishment because your hands get to be hands instead of playing around with your iPod or computer. They get to do something instead of sitting around all day while you’re entertaining yourself with your iPod and your internet and all of the other things we do. Our hands don’t get to do much any more.”
  • “We will pay a lot of money not to cook. To avoid “(in a scared voice) Ack! A potato!” And we get upset because we can’t make the food taste like the fast food. Our taste buds have been changed.”
  • “It’s not just biscuits (that we try to replicate at home). We try to replicate (the lives and people) we see on TV or in magazines. We try to make ourselves into what we see as ideal.”

What Does It Mean?

It might be easy in our American black/white worldview to dismiss some of the things that Edward Espe Brown says as muddled or hokey or too “hippie.” Maybe they don’t align with the things you were told when you were small. But I think there is a lot of wisdom in his words if you open your mind.

As I was blanching greens today in class, I thought about caring for those delicate, cooked leaves as if they were my own eyes. Cooked collard green leaves are very delicate and soft. They can tear very easily. But I put aside distractions and focused on the food. We were “only” blanching greens, but by caring for the greens and putting our full attention to them, we made them into something beyond ordinary. Chef Shahnaz told us that she spent a lot of time cooking greens at the Kushi institute, because it takes a long time to master the seemingly simple ways of preparing them well.

Below: Blanched greens I cooked with some teammates in class on Thursday. At bottom is a delicious dressing made in the VitaMix and at the top is a braised cabbage we cooked with cumin. Simple and delicious.