Thursday, January 21, 2010

Moments and stories in Japan

So first to get you in the mood there are some things I have noticed in Japan or learned about that you may know or find interesting, odd, crazy, or not. But as you have entered my world I guess you can just choose to stop reading at any time.
1. Some interesting things I have learned include the thought of cute. Everything should and has the possibility of being cute. From little dogs to government documents they are all cute. I even saw insecticide with a cute little dying bug on it.
2. Tradition is important! especially in Kyoto (from my understanding) because Kyoto is where most of Japanese traditions became refined and therefore defined Japanese culture. Many schoolchildren from all over the country flock here to understand and see this city of their heritage. And this being said sometimes I am a bit aggravated (I will blame my cultural ignorance on this) because it seems that tradition is more important than reason. There are many examples of my experiences of this but I think I should leave it at that as not to offend.
3. Vending machines are all the rage and sometimes even creepy (though I have not seen them as maybe they are smart and put them near other areas I shall not and would not go, and also feel uncomfortable talking about on the internet) They are everywhere. Coke, tea, hot coffee, and many other things available like starbucks in the USA. Sometimes there are just a few too many just a little too close.
4. It seems as if the dental business is booming over here as you see them everywhere. I even saw one that looked like it belonged in Beverly Hills!!! But I have no idea what they do. I know what your thinking, people have teeth and they need to be cleaned, and straightened, and so on. But as I look around having nice straight white teeth is not so much in fashion. To my understanding for a girl to have slightly crooked teeth is cute... I know they really like cute things. It is called "yaeba" or double tooth.
5. The thing I may never get used to is that they lock their bikes. As in they have a lock on their bikes that is a lock... the bikes are just locked to themselves... not to anything... just like a lock through the spoke of their wheel. And there are hundreds of them. They just sit out all the time. That is all the theft deterrent they need. Amazing!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

God Fearing Epicurean

So a quick note to those expecting a story, this is not the page for that. I have been actually having a bit of time for thought, which has not happened for at least a couple months. So I begun the process of the "How and Why" of being a chef again in Japan. I think this is different for everyone crazy enough to take on this career. It seems that my thoughts on my business in this business, and even japan for that matter, revolve around the philosophy I have developed over the last ten years, kicking and screaming. I can't say that the thought of being a chef is pleasant, at all. As a matter of fact I looked desperately to find something more suitable so that I could keep my family holidays. But something is not just drawing me to this career but has seduced me to become something of an addict. And this year prove it as I have been doing over one-hundred hours of work a week, away from family for the best two holidays, and all the while trying to stay sane in maybe the only kitchen that is the same temperature as outside. (A slowly numbing 40 degrees F on average.)
So I have now and constantly thinking of why I cook. One of my favorite chefs, Thomas Keller, has a quote that I thought but never really put into words. "When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about." You see despite being a chef I don't like to cook if there is no people involved. I think it is a way of connecting to people intimately without a commitment, and if I'm good then we both have a great evening with no strings attached. And this makes sense to me. I don't necessarily care to be known or have some name brand, and by that I mean that I realize the importance of money. My favorite moments and as follows; having a young couple come in and splurge their few nickels and dimes on a meal and service I provide is an amazing feeling. To eat is one of the oldest ways to communicate with each other ever since caves held the latest decor. As I think about this the average person goes to a five star restaurant with entertainment on their mind, like a broadway show. And that is where most people have their perspective angled from. They never see the endless hours of work it takes to cook an amazing multi-course meal, or what it takes to keep a kitchen spotless during and after that meal. But to me the work is part of the enjoyment. It is like a secret that only me and my friends in the white coats know about. We may not recognize it in the middle but near the end the haze pulls away knowing what happened in the past few hours. I was part of a two stage process of harvesting and making memories.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The meeting of the Aspiring and Chef Tanigawa

So to begin this I will admit I have both neglected and nearly forgoten about this blog. I have been trying hard to work, study, and do all things japanese and in the process still try and stay in touch with family and friends and keep all my peices together. But I am back in the new year and excited and hopeful that I may log some more time into this blogging thing. I have yet to exactly figure it out and why I convinced myself it is necessary but here I am writing so that some unlucky soul should read my anomalous writings of this and that.
So I promised you I would write about this chef I am working for and I am glad I have had no time to write and more time to understand him because he is, like most Chefs I have met, hard to understand. And by understand I do not even thinking about the chasm of separation in language between he and I. For me, it is hard to understand all his motives. He is a dedicated business man, loving husband, slightly disparaging employer, good Chef, and all around traditional. So when I am combining al these in my head it becomes a bit hard to really understand this man, Yoshimi Tanigawa. Thus far he treats me as a pet, asking me to speak, and play with things like knives. Also he takes me to see things around the area. Which are sometimes momentously interesting like when he took me with him to visit his parents grave. And sometimes a bit ridiculous, like when he took me to go get his hair cut and had me wait in the car.
So initially I met the man dressed head to toe in a yellow jumpsuit, which in america is a bit outlandish but here no one seems to have the same American sense of embarrassment. I then had the pleasure of working with him which by no means is easy as a normal workday consists of between 15 to 19 hour workdays depending on the busyness of that season. And he can be generous, as he has been to me for the things he has been teaching me and showing me. Also he houses his apprentices in a nearby building. Though I think most americans would consider it more of a storeroom with beds and a shower. Now I want to state that I am trying to be as honest as I can, with no intention of making this seem like I am not grateful, because I am. I have my complaints like anywhere else I may go but no place can be that perfect. And also my understanding is limited in the fact that I do not speak japanese. So other than telling you of what I see, I can really only tell you of his accomplishments. He has built a successful traditional Kaiseki chef, won over Chef Morimoto in the Japanese Iron Chef, and taught many apprentices through a rigorous program of up to 7 years to become disciplined japanese chefs of varying skill levels. I respect him and his accomplishments as I continue to learn from this complicated individual.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First week in japan

So here starts my trip to Japan. What am I really thinking, three months in Japan... But I am a stubborn as puppies are cute, and I have already started this so I have to finish it. I had nearly two weeks of rest and relaxation and now the doors have shut behind me. I don't mean to sound like I think this is a bad choice, or even that I am not capable of what I have set out to do. Really it just feels like my first girlfriend. I had no idea what I was doing but maybe through all the confusion maybe the future girlfriend would benefit from my blunderings, confusion, and pain.

Now I have been cooking French/ American cuisine for ten years, only the later four were really serious. But this is a new ball game. The food is different here, literally. In the last week I have eaten more fish heads and eyes and eggs than I have or probably ever will throughout the remainder of my life. Cooks here are serious, actually it seems everyone here is serious. More things are served cold than hot, ingredients are combined expertly at the last moment instead of slowly combining flavors in sauces over the course of hours, and the aromas are subtle and deep.

So just to back up a bit I should tell you all my first and probably most tragic story. I flew into Tokyo Narita airport at about 6:30pm after a long and thoughtful ride on an air plane. Though it was a nice introduction as the service on the plane was amazing. I have never taken economy class and been given so much respect and attention, not to mention all the girls were dressed like chinese influenced 1950's stewardesses. Classic! It was a dreary 11 hour ride without interruption and upon getting off my nerves really set in. My head is spinning thinking "now what am I supposed to say to customs?","Am I supposed to have that yellow paper, because that nice asian lady never came by to give me that, or was I asleep?" So then comes the longest walk I have ever had in an airport. I even passed a heavy set lady panting heavily incapable of making taking another step before getting on an escalator about half way to customs. Bonus though, all the signs had english! Yes, one for the home team! Then after about an hour in customs, and filling out that little yellow sheet I did not get on the airplane, I was officially in Japan! Then came the next part, money, bus, e-mail, and to try and actually believe regular people read this language. Got on the bus at 9:10 sharp without a hitch. Now this was interesting, they basically give you slippers on the bus and a blanket, and close the curtains to basically put you to bed for the night on your mobile "cot." And I get to Kyoto, worried as hell that I will miss my stop because they only speak japanese. I was excited, and I had to use a real restroom for the first time in 22 hours. They turn the lights on and I bolt, completely forgetting that I have luggage! Luckily I had only traversed around the corner before I remembered, only about one minute away. Unfortunately Japanese people are on time to a fault and were out of sight before I even started getting feeling back in my toes. So now I try to find a lost and found...nope. A ticket counter...Yes, but it is not open. So I call this kind man, Michael Baxter, at 6:30 in the morning in a panic trying to figure out what to do. Well after, talking to a concierge, waiting for the counter to open up, wandering in a world where 1 out of 10 people are at a jogging pace getting somewhere so that they are not 10 minutes early. I finally get contact. No english, and my japanese that I had been practicing so diligently had tucked itself somewhere in the depths of my brain. Luckily I struck gold, she knew what to do after one phone call, that took nearly 20 minutes. And come to find out I just had to come back that night as the bus passed at 10 o'clock and pick up my bags. Easy pleasy!

Up next my introduction to Yoshimi Tanigawa and his kitchen, Kichisen!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So as many of you know I am going to JAPAN!!! But not yet as I felt I needed some quality time with me and my family before I go and work the tailfeathers out of bum in Japan. So here I am in sunny LA with some good times to share.

I have been relaxing in LA with my sister and brother-in-law getting ready to leave. Done a few things out here of which I'll start by posting some pictures! Enjoy!

Sunny LA

Sunny LA
Bri and I at the arboritum

Aunt Vicki, Melissa, Bri, Me

Aunt Vicki, Melissa, Bri, Me
Visit my cousin in San Diego

plant zoo in LA arboritum