Sushi, Wine, and Unexpected Inspiration

This has been the summer of personal development. As I wrote about previously, seeing my close friends graduate last May hit me like a ton of bricks, and watching many of them struggle through the job search put me into panic mode. I’m an engineering major, I thought, but I don’t want to go into engineering. What do I do? How do I expand my boundaries?

The next thing that came to mind was reading. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve really sat down and read an actual, physical book, so I knew I needed to ease back into the habit. Instead, I’ve been bookmarking several reputable websites, from NPR to the New York Times (even ESPN recently!), and finding interesting articles to peruse. Anything that can hold my attention for more than five minutes!

However, sometimes I just want to curl up in bed and relax. Maybe I feel creative and want to draw a bit. I’m usually hungry when I get home, so the first thing I usually need to do is make dinner. A new question then persisted: What can I do to make this time more productive?

I then ventured into the world of podcasts. Once again, I admit that I found it hard to focus on one topic for an extended period of time. Though interesting, I often missed important points and dazed off into space while trying to finish other tasks. Maybe podcasts aren’t for me quite yet…

Finally, last night I looked through Netflix’s ‘Documentaries’ category, and I think I’ve found what I’ve been looking for all along. I added a bunch of ones that piqued my interest and got to a few before sleeping last night!

JiroDreamsOfSushiThe first was Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Renowned for a variety of reasons, I was very excited to finally delve into the world of Jiro Ono and his world famous sushi restaurant. As expected, I was quite hungry while watching the entire documentary and craved sushi afterwards. What resonated most with me about this movie was not the breathtakingly detailed shots of perfectly prepared sushi. What I did not expect, however, was the profound message that the movie conveyed.

I’ve always been particularly interested in character studies and was pleasantly surprised to find that the documentary spent a considerable amount of time on Jiro himself, instead of focusing primarily on his restaurant. In a relatively short 90 minutes, this documentary proved that saying Sukiyabashi Jiro is the product of hard work and dedication is a gross understatement. I could go on and on about the many details of his life and career, as the movie does, but one aspect in particular resonated with me.

Interviews with Jiro, his family, collaborators, and friends provide insight and give depth to his otherwise mysterious persona. “The difference between Jiro today and Jiro 40 years ago is only that he stopped smoking,” mused one interviewee, “Other than that, nothing has changed.” Jiro himself attributes the success of his restaurant on his persistence. He constantly strives for perfection, which, even after earning 3 Michelin stars, he is convinced that he has not yet achieved. His apprentices likewise attest to his high standards and carefully practiced techniques. Some claim that he is very “hard on himself,” but he responds to these remarks simply with his painstakingly crafted sushi.

His messages resonated with me deeply. Even after more than half a century dedicating his life to sushi, he is convinced that his work is not yet finished. Meanwhile, I am only 21 years old and still have the rest of my own life to dedicate to a craft or skill, whatever it might be! My first instinct, as usual, was to freak out — Jiro hasn’t been completely happy with his progress even after practicing for so long. What could I ever accomplish in that time?

Like most other things, however, it is a matter of perspective. His own feelings toward success are one thing, but worldwide acclaim, fame, and praise are another. Though he may not feel that he has reached the peak of the craft, countless others, including many culinary experts, would disagree, saying that Jiro makes some of the best sushi in the world. The most substantial support to this claim is the restaurant’s 3 Michelin star rating, indicating, in a nutshell, that it is wholly worth making a special trip all the way to Japan just to eat sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Thinking about it now, my reaction shouldn’t be, “If I were a restaurant owner, would I be satisfied with 3 Michelin stars? Should I be satisfied with them?” but instead, “What should I be doing to get those 3 Michelin stars? How can I improve? What can I do better?”

If I ever own a restaurant, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.


The second documentary I watched was Somm. Summarized in one sentence, it tells the story of four sommeliers training for the insanely intensive and competitive Master Sommelier exam.

As before, Somm paints pictures of men wholly dedicated to their craft. Many spend more than a decade preparing themselves for this exam, attending training sessions, working in the field, studying books and maps and notecards, and receiving mentorship from previous Masters. It even interviews some of their family members and significant others in order to get a sense of the exam’s impact on each’s social life.

Admittedly, this documentary was not as in-depth as Jiro, never really delving fully into each man’s life and background leading up to the exam. Though I did get a sense of what the Master Sommelier exam is like, including the sheer depth of knowledge that takers must possess, I never really reached the same level of personal understanding of their long-term struggles that I felt with Jiro. I did, however, feel for their individual journeys as they were presented, primarily in the final few weeks of preparation, and my heart was still racing as each received their final results. The movie is still quite an emotional roller coaster in its own way!

Regardless, I now feel a sense of immense respect for these four men and the amount of effort they have put into their own craft. The amount of time that they dedicate to getting this certification — more time than most PhD programs! — and the personal sacrifices that they make in order to achieve it are awe-inspiring.

I can only hope to someday reach the same level of expertise in anything as these men have in every possible aspect of wine. Above all else, it gave me an appreciation for the level of effort and sacrifice that must be made in order to reach such a respectable level. Sleepless nights must be spent studying, days spent practicing and conferring with others, mentors should be tapped for their wisdom and advice… all for a pin, a certificate, and, as before, worldwide recognition for your talent.

Perhaps people are like wine: each intricately crafted and manufactured; each with their own tastes, flavor, and thickness; each from a specific identifying region with, as the movie puts it, their own “story.” Some types of wine pair well with certain types of food, others with others; some people even favor certain types of wine over others.

Whatever the case, I personally love learning about people’s passions as well as their journeys to achieve whatever goals they may have. A few drinks and some good food along the way certainly doesn’t hurt!

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