His love of the simple beauty of rice culture is a deep one. He loves Vietnam and Cambodia, for instance. He’s even gone so far as to have sit-downs with former Vietcong and Khmer Rouge Cambodians.
“This weekend I’m heading off for Vietnam. Love it. First love. It’s f--king beautiful. Any rice culture is beautiful.”
Any rice culture?
“It’s super-intricate. Just the irrigation systems, the level of cooperation with your neighbors. You need to manipulate the water levels, every little thing. Rice has something magical about it. Rice is an explanation for everything.” It dawned on me that “rice culture” embodies his celebration of communal work one finds all the way back in Kitchen Confidential.
It figures in his conception of how he’d like his life to end.
As our lunch concludes I ask my last question, the traditional question asked of chefs and death row inmates: “What would you like your last meal to be?”
“Easy. Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. A sushi place. I’m eating 25 of them. Twenty-five courses in 22 minutes. So perfect.”
“What makes it so perfect?
“Did you see the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi?”
“Watch the film and you will understand. It is an 88-year-old man doing the same basic 30 or 40 basic cuts of Edo-style sushi, meaning nothing innovative. Every night he’s been going to sleep for his entire life; how do I make that standard shrimp over rice better, better, better, better?
“It’s about the rice. It’s an explanation of...everything. And sort of a tragedy and an inspiring...and also tragedy. The son’s 55—and they’re toasting the seaweed outside in the cellar—not yet trusted to take the helm! But it’s an extraordinary piece of work and really one of the most deeply satisfying perfect meals I’ve ever had. Stripped of everything, every nonessential ingredient.
“You eat with your hands. You sit down, right in front of him, you look him in the eyes and pick it up and put it in your mouth. Two minutes later another thing goes down, you pick it up.”
I like that, don’t you? “Rice is magical. Rice is an explanation of everything.”