Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Psychology of Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Sushi, Sushi, Sushi, one of the hottest foods (no pun intended) over the last few years in Austin, is still somewhat of an enigma to us.  I've eaten my fair share of sushi and other Japanese food, but still I am a beginner in the sushi realm.

I saw a preview of this movie when I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane training day.  I can't write a review of Jiro's restaurant, but the psychological aspects of the documentary struck me as remarkable.  There really won't be any spoilers, as there really isn't a traditional plot, per se.

You might have gotten from the trailer that Jiro Ono's training is intense and brutal.  Apprentices train for years just to learn how to make rice.  Apprentices must first learn how to wring hot towels in their hands before they may touch the food.  Jiro's attitude towards his work shows a completely different approach than what most are used to seeing.  Jiro never claims to be the best.  Jiro was never cocky.  Jiro and many of the other players in the movie approached their work as a craft.  From the fish vendors to the apprentice chefs, many of them stated that they wanted to keep improving and learn better techniques.

Here's a few quotes from the film:
You must dedicate your life to mastering this skill. This is the key to success.”
"Even at my age in work, I still haven't reached perfection."
"I'll continue to climb to try to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is!"

This attitude is vastly different from many that I've come across.  Often times, people say things like "I've done it before. Don't tell me what to do."  Or "I've been doing this for X number of years. I'm an expert."  I've said it several times before.  I hate the e-word.  I don't think there's anything as an expert.  In my experience, people who call themselves experts are the ones who have stopped learning and stopped perfecting their art.  Experts are the ones who refuse to be flexible to change and feedback falls on deaf ears.  

I'm a strong believer in being passionate about your work.  People with hardy personalities persistent and are committed to their work will fair better.  They are resilient to stress, and in the long-run, that could be better long-term health (empirical research pending).  One of my favorite hardy personalities is Randy Pausch

There may be others who disagree.  They say that perpetually striving to achieve goals may be stressful when the goals are realized.  They claim that the constant work has a negative effect, but I would disagree.  People who have a sense of passion about their work live longer.  People who do nothing but "relax," are the ones that are missing out.  There's already a plethora of research demonstrating that people who retire young also die young.  There's also a plethora of psychological work that shows that people are happy regardless of circumstances

I recommend, instead, to stay alive by staying passionate about what you do.  Never stop learning, and never stop doing.  Without this type of attitude, Jiro Ono might not have every achieve all that he did.  Doctor's orders!  The Doctor also orders you to see the film.

I found a quote in a Piano Guys video that was in the same vein.  "Don't only practice your art. Force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine." - Ludwig Van Beethoven. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Las Vegas Eats: Lotus of Siam

When I asked for recommendations for off the beaten path restaurants, Lotus of Siam was one that came up.  @Windaddict and I decided to give it a try before our Zappos tour.  The menu at Lotus of Siam is pretty intense, and it can be quite difficult to choose items.  We took recommendations from some blogs, websites, and the waitstaff.  I haven't had a wide plethora of Thai food, and this Thai food is nothing like I had before.  There was a heavy use of sauces, ginger, lime juice, and onion. 

Our first dish was number 36 Yum Nuah (spicy beef salad) with onion, tomato, fresh chili mixed with lime juice on a bed of greens. 

This salad was a little too sauced for my palate, however delicious.  The ginger and onion flavor in this was pretty pronounced.  I would recommend this dish to the ginger lover in your life. 

And another shot of my view.

We also had the number 8 Koong Sarong (prawn in a blanket) - marinated prawn wrapped with bacon and wonton wraps, deep fried, served with a sweet and sour sauce.  This was probably one of my favorite dishes.  The outside was nice and crispy, yet the prawns inside were sweet and succulent.  The tails were nice and crunchy, perfect for munching.  While some people might think that shrimp tails is gross, but I find them to be crispy treats.  Mmm....extra crunchy!

Here's another shot of those crispy tasty prawns. 

The number 14 Nam Kao Tod was amazing - crispy rice mixed with minced sour sausage, green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, and lime juice.  The rice were crunchy little bits of deliciousness.  I would definitely get this dish again. 

Oh........ so yummy.  It isn't necessarily a pretty dish, but it is a tasty dish.  I thought the rice was so interesting that I didn't pay much attention to anything else on the plate. 

From the North Thai side, Nua Yang Prik Thai Onn is charbroiled beef sauteed with young peppercorn sauce.  I quite liked this dish, and I found the young peppercorns to be very interesting. 

Here's some of the young peppercorn up close.  The peppercorns have a very grassy almost herbal flavor.  These would be really fantastic in a pasta.  Too bad these aren't easy to find.  In fact, I'm not sure where to get young peppercorn. 

Fried banana and coconut served with sweet, sticky rice and topped with a coconut ice cream and peanuts was our dessert.  I'm a huge fan of coconut and bananas.  These were probably the best wrapped fried banana dessert I've had.  The shell was incredibly light, and the sticky rice added a comfort food component to the dish. 

We visited Lotus of Siam on our final day in Vegas for the lunch buffet ($10 or so).  Our a la carte lunch was about $75, and it was a fabulous experience.  The lunch buffet (photo below) is quite a bit different from a la carte meal, but quite enjoyable in its own right.  You'll be able to sample tempura vegetables, egg rolls, soups, and a variety of noodle dishes.  Whether or not you're looking for a filling lunch or a dining experience, Lotus of Siam is a great place to visit.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Behind the Scenes of @Cirque du Soliel's Quidam

It is no secret that I'm a huge Cirque du Soliel fan.  Over the years, I've seen about seven of the shows, each delightful in their own way.  My favorite show so far is Ka in Las Vegas.  I felt like the producers of the show said, "How much technology and creativity can we cram into 90 minutes?"  I won't give away any of the details about the show, but I will say that the it was an engineering and technological marvel.  I was super surprised when O'Neil Communications invited me for a backstage tour of Quidam with the chef!   Behind the scenes of Cirque, HECK YES! 

Photos by John M. P. Knox. @windaddict

We arrived the day before opening night to see a plethora of giant 18 wheeler trucks.  I would think that the logistics of these traveling shows is nothing short of a head spinning task.  Travel arrangements, equipment loading, lodging reservations, and feeding the cast and crew are just a few of the issues.  Sometimes the cast and crew flies, and sometimes they are bussed.  The equipment is always driven to meet the cast and crew.   Cirque brings almost everything with them, quite literally.  While we were backstage, we saw racks of washing machines and dryers to launder the costumes.  Weight lifting machines were on rolling carts being unloaded from cases.  With the physical demands of being a performer on Cirque, it makes complete sense that the workout equipment should be available at all times.  I'm not joking about bringing everything. 

Without giving away too much information, there is a rotating stage at Quidam.  We witnessed the construction of this gigantic platform in awe.  It was no ordinary stage.  See the pictures for assembly!

After exploring the venue for a few minutes, we met up with Chef Brandon Martin to take a tour of the facilities.  The cast and crew of Quidam make up 103 individuals.  Feeding hot meals to a group that size presents challenges.  Throw in specialized diet needs, and you're talking about major preplanning.  Chef works with a nutritionist to ensure that the athletes and crew are properly fueled.  I must say that much of the crew should be considered athletes too, considering all the heavy physical labor that goes into setting up the equipment. 

Sourcing food alone is a major challenge.  Cooking the food is another.  In some locations, they are able to move into a kitchen.  However, in Austin, they set up their own in an outdoor tent.  Checkout their awesome tool chest.  I love it!

This would be one awesome camping set up.  One might think that cooking with 100+ hungry mouths might present problems in satisfying their preferences, but Chef Brandon says that the family-like crew is very easy to satisfy.  There's always a dry foods in the morning, followed by hot lunch and dinner.  Chef makes special meals on holidays and special occasions, and they do attempt to make some special requests from time to time. 

I enjoyed the show on Wednesday night.  If you haven't seen a Cirque show before, Quidam is highly recommended to pop that cherry.  Enjoy!