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Sushi, Slapstick and Sourdough

Jiro and Woody:  Two takes on Craft and Art #

I've been mezmerized by two recent documentaries and what they say about Craft. I've watched them both twice now and I think Cindy's going to kill me if I queue them up for a third viewing.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi  (trailer) is about Jiro Ono, an 85 year old sushi chef whose tiny, 20 seat sushi restaurant under a Tokyo subway station is the only sushi restaurant in the world to win three Michelin stars. Jiro's chose his career at a young age and from that day on he committed himself to his craft "every day, for the rest of his life" They joke that even on the day he was awarded his Michelin stars, he took time off in the afternoon for the ceremony but was back at work in time to make sushi for his guests at dinner time.

Jiro's apprentices sign up for 10 years in order to learn the craft of making the world's best sushi, although some only last one day. In one scene, an apprentice tells how he prepared the difficult egg custard sushi over 200 times before one was finally acceptable to Jiro and could be served to customers.

While the result of this 75 year quest for perfection is amazing to see -- Jiro's 20 piece tasting menu is described by a food critic as "a symphony with three movements" -- to my eye's Jiro's paid a heavy price. There is no mention of his wife in the movie at all. And Jiro admits that he was a stranger to his two sons until they were old enough to join him as apprentices. I'm much too close to my family to avoid feeling sad about his singular obsession.

Woody Allen beside his typewriter

The recent documentary about the life and career of Woody Allen (trailer) offers an interesting contrast to Jiro's life as a sushi chef. Over a 60 year career as a joke writer, stand up comedian, author and film maker, Woody Allen has built an unparalleled body of work. But for all his successes, he's also had his share of failures. After winning the Best Picture Oscars for Annie Hall and Manhattan, Stardust Memories was seen as a big disappointment. After several hits in the '80s, Allen continued to make a movie a year with relatively little success until 2011's Midnight in Paris, which became the largest grossing film in his career.

The lesson of Woody Allen's film making career is to do whatever it takes to keep control of his work (he is most often the writer and director) and to keep making films. In the early days, when he had no experience as a filmmaker, Woody would work with very tight budgets and would take little to no wage so that his films would make money and he would be allowed to make another one.

Woody is also a master of, as he puts it, "compartmentalizing his life." As much as he loves filmmaking, he structures his time to come in, get the shots he wants, and go home to watch the ballgame. His actors are sometimes intimidated by the number of single takes in his filming, but as Woody puts it "once I've got what I want, why do it again?"

So what's this got to do with the bakery? #

Both movies got deep inside my brain. They rattled me, because I've been struggling a lot with how to run the bakery and expand what we make without compromising our standards for quality. To put it simply, I want you to have the best bread in the world. Just like Jiro wants to serve you the best sushi in the world. But I see our journey being more like Woody's -- ups and downs, successes and failures, but over time building a body of work you'll enjoy and I'll be proud of.

My goal every day is to push the limits of what we do, and be able to do well enough to survive to do it again tomorrow**.** And with my life balanced enough that I can still be part of my family and tend to the roots Cindy and I have put down in our community.

Although I'm not much for compartmentalizing things -- which is why you'll hear me talking about Ben and Robyn from time to time, or soccer, or awesome local volunteers, or even camping, in addition to bread. Woody and Jiro are inspirations, but my path is going to be different.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is showing this Thursday, Friday and Sunday at the RPL Film Theatre. Well worth checking out. Woody Allen: a Documentary is on Netflix. Well worth subscribing if you don't have Netflix yet!