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.

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