Documentaries: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Step up to the Plate”

by Jan

These two documentaries are about restaurants and the families who run them. It’s also about inheritance, career choices, as well as intense attention to detail, absolute dedication and hard work.

The Bras family from Laguiole/Gaillac, run an award-winning restaurant. One year Michel Bras won best regional restaurant in France. Now his son has taken over the chef role, and Michel has officially retired but still works theoretically part-time, but in reality it’s probably more like full time.

Jiro runs a sushi bar in Tokyo, and has been doing so for decades; he’s elderly and his son, who is no spring chicken, is next in line. He seems to be like an apprentice suspended from progress by the rigidity of tradition of inheritance. Why didn’t he break away and open his own sushi bar?

It appears that tradition is less of a constraint in the French family. Michel’s son could have undertaken another career if he wanted to, even if it would have disappointed his family. But Jiro’s two sons would have been under a greater obligation to follow the family trade. This dedication to duty could have made the two siblings unhappy, but it seems that they lived with what life handed to them. Interesting, though, that Jiro made the observation to some school children that obedience doesn’t always men success in life.

Similarly, Michel and Sebastien scrutinise each others’ recipes. The director, Lacoste, also documents the steps towards bringing a new dish into fruition, and the camera pans over masses of these dishes will signify a handover of control to Sebastien, who opens in Japan.

We see a dish decorated with flowers, and it’s even more detailed than a still life painting by a 17th century Dutch painter. The detail is almost too much.

Both of these docos show us about adherence to tradition, but also about not always adhering to tradition. Experimenting with new ideas is a good thing and stops the chef’s working life becoming boring and stale.

They both show that succession can be fraught with difficulties.