Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: A Review

Meet Jiro. He's 85 years old, regarded to be the best sushi chef in the world and is still working in his 10 cover sushi bar Sukiyabashi Jiro, located in a subway station in Tokyo. He has been working on perfecting the art of sushi for 75 years and was given three Michelin stars in 2008.

In the 2011 documentary film 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi', directed by David Gelb, Jiro's life and dedication to mastering his craft, improving it a little each day, is portrayed in a fascinating and mesmerising way. In Jiro's restaurant there are no appetizers and a whole meal can take as little as 15 minutes - the experience is dedicated to simple and beautiful sushi, using the best ingredients and techniques. While this sounds like a description that many restaurants would give themselves, the level of quality demanded by Jiro is quite extraordinary and clearly exceeds the expectations one would have of a label such as that. Jiro has a dedicated supplier for nearly every ingredient he purchases - be it the rice, the tuna or eel. These suppliers are all characterised by their great knowledge of the product they provide and have built relationships of trust with Jiro over many years.

An apprenticeship in Sukiyabashi Jiro will take ten years - one chef recalls being allowed to have a go at making Tamagoyaki (grilled egg sushi) after ten years of being an apprentice, and having made over 200 batches of it before Jiro deemed it to be of the right quality. This is what distinguishes Jiro's eatery from the rest - its pure dedication to getting it absolutely right, consistently, every time. Another example for the work that goes in to the preparation of the sushi is named in the documentary: octopus is hand-massaged for 45-50 minutes before it is served warm, in order to prevent it from having a rubbery texture.

In this sense, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an astonishing documentary to watch for anyone interested in food and the amount of work that can go into perfecting a bite-size portion of sushi. It is beautifully shot and aesthetically pleasing and will have your mouth watering within a few minutes. But the film captures far more than that - it is a brilliant portrayal of an extraordinary personality, someone that enjoys what he does and has happily spent most of his life as a true 'shokunin' - a craftsman or artisan at heart.

Just as interesting, to me, was the story of his two sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi, who have both followed in their fathers footsteps. As the eldest son, at 50, Yoshikazu is supposed to take over the restaurant when his father steps out or passes, as is family tradition. Takashi, the younger son, also trained with his father and left to open his own sushi restaurant, which is a mirror image of his fathers, and holds two Michelin stars. Both sons were trained extremely hard by their father and show similar values and dedication to being shokunins, however, it is said that they will never be able to surpass their father, as they would have to be twice as good to be even regarded as equal - such is the impact Jiro has made on the world as the first man to lift sushi to such a high standard. Interestingly, Yoshikazu was the one to prepare the sushi for the Michelin guide critics that earned the restaurant its three star rating - a testament to his obviously immense talent that still lingers in the shadow of his fathers persona.

The film is beautiful and will delight many a viewer, as it captures so many things: A family business and its traditions,dedicated craftsmanship, perfection of food and Japanese culture. It's a gem and you should watch it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is still being shown at Hackney Picturehouse in London or can be viewed here or here.

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