When I was just starting college and knew very little about food, I suggested to my still good friend Aaron that we have a lunch date at a sushi buffet. His response was utter horror and an explanation of disgust at the thought of less than fresh raw fish. After watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you may never be able to dine at any sushi restaurant again, save for Sukiyabashi Jiro, the 10-seat eatery found in a Tokyo subway station that’s currently swept up the foodie nation.
I’m not sure anyone (at least in the food world), has yet to see the Magnolia Pictures production, but if you haven’t managed to make it to this captivating film yet, I fully insist you catch it. The movie profiles 85-year-old Jiro Ono, renowned sushi master and chef of the first three-starred Michelin sushi restaurant. Wide-spanning, sensual shots of sushi combine with the details of Jiro and his two sons’ lives, telling the passion and dedication required to reach a level of true perfection.
On many levels, Jiro can be hard to understand. At 85, he is unwilling to retire, so dedicated to his world he cannot imagine doing anything but running his restaurant day after day, even as his 65-year-old son Yoshikazu Ono should step up to take his place. For many people, this kind of all consuming passion is a foreign concept. As Jiro says, “Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” Most people are more interested in making money quickly, and then working as few hours as possible, enjoying life’s pleasures rather than enjoying their work.
But Jiro’s thinking is such the life of a chef, the life of the kitchen: to work hard, long hours in order to reach perfection. Study any great chef today and you will find the same common thread, the quiet demeanor, hard-working mentality that is necessary for success. No great chef has ever wanted to get rich quick, and if they mistakenly did—after peeling carrots as a stagiaire or pulling 15-hour shifts—they quickly realized this was not kitchen life.
But the world of the kitchen can be all consuming. For a chef truly dedicated to there craft, (as in many other fields) there is often time for little else. There are moments when I think hesitantly at the seriousness with which I take my chosen profession—it is just food after all. For all the options in the world, I have chosen to devote my life to writing and educating about food in a very serious way. The people that know me well know that I live, breath, sleep, and of course, eat, what I do. I could be writing about politics or economics or science, but I have chosen food as my cause, my way of storytelling. I have a feeling that that saying of Jiro’s will be oft repeated and it hit home practically hard with me. I’m in love with food and the story of people through food, but I’m still falling in “love with my work.”
While the movie’s imagery of sushi is enthralling and very tempting (make reservations at the very best sushi restaurant you can for after the show!), and the story of Jiro’s temple is quite interesting, in the end, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is really about awakening the passion we all have inside us. It’s that push, the voice inside telling us to do what we love, to be completely dedicated to an art and to a craft. It’s a bit scary, and also quite wonderful, to question if we are passionate enough at what we do, and in the world of escapism and materialism, doesn’t happen nearly enough.