Monday, February 16, 2015

Jiro dreams of sushi - on obsession and craftsmanship

Watched during the summer break on a 30’C day. Trailer on vimeo here and review here. The documentary is about the famous sushi restaurant that has earned 3 michelin stars. The documentary focuses on the patriach and owner, now 85,Jiro has made sushi for 75 years

Summary and notes taken while watching the video:

Hard work to achieve craftsmanship. Talent helps but is hard work that gets you there.

Obsession and continual self-criticism are the hallmarks of achieving perfection.  

Not only making sushi but selecting the raw ingredients (tuna) and there is a segment of the video on the rituals associated with tuna auction

Continued learning even when working with 'one' menu item after 70 years or fishmonger selling fish 40 – 50 years. Summarised as shokunin in context of the video – the Japanese concept of being perfectionists.
10 years apprenticeship!  Beginning with preparing hot towels and only after 10 years, will you be allowed to prepare eggs for the omelet - used as a dessert item in the restaurant. 200 omelettes before success – with others binned. Path to perfectionism is not easy or fast!
Much cannot be described in words, just need to keep practicing. For example, sushi nigiri hand moulding. There is much that is tactile and sensory - smell and feel are all important.
Apprentice prepare the staff meals, as a way to learn, critique and evaluate senior apprentices work. Only master prepares sushi for customers.
Development of palate just as important as physical skills – sushi staff eat well to learn quality
Experts on fish (selection by working tuna flesh in hands while illuminating with a torch), rice – the best rice is difficult to prepare and cook.
Each ingredient brought to perfection through preparation, cooking technique, seasoning and treatment before assembly with rice.
Customers book one month ahead and pay minimum of 300,000 yen per sitting (NZ$370 - $390) – with service around 30 minutes. For about 16 - 20 pieces of sushi
Preparation is key, 95% of sushi making is in the preparation, not the assembly
At the end discusses issues of sustainability – of the seafood and of the apprenticeship system.

Overall, a gentle documentary, of one person's pursuit of excellence. The Japanese approach to work is well encapsulated and overall, provides an interesting study of how societies' expectations mould individual's responses. Also a good representation of how apprenticeship learning is perceived in some societies and the acceptance of both master and apprenticeship of their roles in the entire enterprise. Worth a watch just for the food photography but also as a record of a way of life, now perhaps less common. 

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