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Plat du Jour: Thursday April 19, 2012: Time 100, Jiro, and Let’s Hear it for Anchovies

Happy Thursday, with the weekend within sight we’ll have the cocktail of the week to celebrate with in a few months (along with the day late beer and wine of the week, lots of clinking glasses I guess today!).

But first, a big cheers to the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People of 2012, a list we all wish to be on one day. Ranging from Jeremy Lin to Mitt Romney to Matt Lauer to…in the food world José Andrés and René Redzepi, the list is as diverse and fascinating as the people it’s listing.

You’d be hard pressed to think of a subject in 2012 that can eclipse the role of food in our daily lives. Whether it’s favorite restaurants or the global poverty challenges of clean water and food to put on a table, food is a vital subject much like world peace and the global economy. Andrés and Redzepi are both incredible success stories who also represent the avant-grade, or future of where cooking is going. Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen not just taught the world about foraging, but how a brutally harsh climate such as Denmark’s can still utilize its local ingredients with ingenious creativity and passion. Andrés has taken the molecular gastronomy reins from his former boss Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and made the subject human. What he has done for bringing Spanish cuisine into the American mainstream at his restaurants and in turn, brought culinary tourism to Spain, is incredible.

Interesting to see Adrià actually write the description of Redzepi, also a one time apprentice at El Bulli (and the French Laundry). Oh yes, Redzepi is only 34 years old too and at the helm of the “best restaurant in the world.” Whether it is the best or not doesn’t matter to Time. The list is about influence. Redzepi is remarkable in his relentless pursuit of evolving the forgotten Scandinavian cuisine. Redzepi is also a remarkable role model for the millions of prospective young entrepreneurs trying to carve a new niche.

It’s exciting to see Anthony Bourdain also chronicle the 42 year old Andrés. Andrés is the prime example of what a visionary chef-celebrity should be. His empire is just the right size. He has a clear appreciation for the future in modernism cuisine, yet loves to stick with the tried and true traditional (just see his olives 2 ways at The Bazaar in West Hollywood). He doesn’t need a television show or product line, instead preferring to be hands on with his speaking and teaching at Harvard or worldwide festivals. Andrés’ most brilliant invention to me is his collaboration last year with the National Archives on the “real” traditional American food. It’s exciting to imagine what might be next from Chef Andrés.

Andrés' version of a tomato and mozzarella salad at The Bazaar in West Hollywood

Meanwhile, not on the influential list, but important still, I had the chance finally this week to see “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” the new documentary by David Gelb on the 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono of Tokyo. I didn’t have the chance to visit Jiro’s 10 seat sushi bar in the Ginza subway station when I was in town last year, mostly due to the fact that you either must speak Japanese or have someone in your party speak Japanese in order to reserve there.

There is no doubt that the parade of majestic sushi images in the film will make you sprint outside to the nearest sushi bar afterwards (there happens to be a sushi bar right outside the theatre I saw the film). Jiro’s philosophy is very straightforward. He’s very rigid and organized, but not in a commanding way like a typical office box. Sushi is his “trade,” it’s what he has devoted his life too and he shall not complain about it.

The lighter parts of the film show there is some life behind these ever so serious sushi chefs, who cut chu-toro with the precision of a Swiss watch maker. Jiro does laugh, on the rare occasion. You never see his home life. You do see him visit friends in his hometown. You do learn a lot about his two sons, both whom he groomed to follow in his footsteps. It’s interesting to see the sibling rivalry with how in Japan, it is expected for the elder son to replace the father. So it’s the younger son Takashi who opened his own sushi bar in Roppongi Hills.

Chu-toro tuna sushi with minced garlic from June 2011 at Kyubei in Ginza, Tokyo

The most intriguing character actually is Yoshikazu, the now almost 60 year old eldest son of Jiro’s, who used to dream of being a race car driver. Sushi is a bit more tranquil than Formula One. Yoshikazu has the sushi world’s pressure on his shoulders when he replaces his Dad. The film shows him already going daily to the famed Tsukiji Fish Market, having replaced his Dad years ago. Of course Yoshikazu is the one who makes most of the sushi Jiro points out and is the reason the restaurant continues to have three Michelin stars.

Yes, the film really is more appropriate as a PBS documentary and there is very little drama. The climax is the real reason food lovers will head to see the film, when Gelb shows the marathon of 20 pieces of sushi presented by Jiro to the lucky diners. You look at every piece of sushi, savor it visually like a Cezanne still life, then bam, it’s gone in one bite. That’s the thing with these sushi restaurant I learned in Tokyo and mentioned in the film. You could be spending easily $300 to $400 for a 15 minute meal. This is the complete opposite of dinner at the French Laundry.

The film caters to food lovers even more with the various scenes of the extreme detail that goes into each day’s preparation, including fanning the rice and massaging the octopus for 40-50 minutes (Jiro says it used to be only a half hour). Jiro and the film show Japan’s remarkable traits of hard work, simplicity, and attention to detail. That’s how you create sushi worthy of dreams for over six decades.

Meanwhile, here’s a fascinating look at the seven types of ballpark eatersI found right before going to a Major League ballpark and eating a $16 crab sandwich last night. I really can be all 7, though like the case last night, tend to be the field level local snob who sits in the bleachers. There’s no place today really for low quality hot dogs and slap dash pizza at ballparks. There’s also no reason for ballparks to not feature local vendors when so many of them already do successfully. There’s also no reason for ballparks to not feature some local or at least craft level brews (here’s looking at you Wrigley).

Sausage at Hoho Kam Park, Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs

Yet there is always a time when you want to have a little sushi, some peanuts from outside the ballpark ($4 less outside the ballpark than inside in San Francisco), even a Mrs. Fields cookie and Dippin Dots, maybe a local salad, and then that Alaskan king crab to round out the meal touching all seven bases.

Ballpark food is quite fascinating, but really, at the end of the day, nothing can beat a hot dog (make sure it’s humanely raised meat), cracker jack (eh, not local or gourmet), and a beer (make it a craft brew!) with some baseball, even when the Sox are getting pasted 18-3.

A great “pizza issue” in yesterday’s New York Times Dining & Wine section, especially the article by Jeff Gordinier on anchovies.. I have for years advocated for poor, neglected anchovies and sardines to be respected again. They are certainly coming on in popularity. Still, too many family members and friends think of anchovies as the salt bombs in tins that are meant for sailors voyaging across the Seven Seas in the 1400’s. Sardines on pizza or sardines gently roasted in fig leaves…outstanding.

Gordan Ramsay is branching out from beyond England and the U.S. now…hello, Qatar! It sounds like Doha is really growing in advance of the 2018 World Cup with new buildings, stadiums, and a food scene boom too. I’ve been hearing first hand reports from a trusty confidant currently in Doha for the International TED Expo (rumor has it that José Andrés and Anthony Bourdain in fact are there).

Two interesting bits of analysis– Ramsey’s New York and Los Angeles outposts have not hardly been considered on the level that his London flagship is (one of two London Michelin 3 stars with Alain Ducasse). Secondly, it’s quite intriguing to see how the St. Regis is really trying to use celebrity chefs as a huge catch to bring people to their newest resorts and hotels. Last year they brought in Jean-Georges Vongerichten to be the consulting chef at the Princeville Resort’s new Kauai Grill when they took over the resort.

Cheers to Thursday and the weekend almost here!

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