I have been going to Jiro san’s sushi counter for thirty years, when he was awarded 3 stars, I was surprised. After thinking about it, I began to understand it. In comparison to most sushi counters, he is the right candidate for a three star restaurant. He is aged, his sushi is good enough, and among the piers, he ranks at the top of the sushi hierarchy, to qualify as a three star chef.
I have many stories about Jiro Sukibashi, I have been going there for thirty years. The last time I visited him, it was before he was awarded his stars. My wife and I invited a serious foodie, a librarian at the Atomic institute of Japan. She lives to eat, she is disciplined and knowledgeable. He charged JPY-160,000 for three people, and the meal was very nice but an over priced “nigiri” for what it was.
The photo above is not Jiro’s sushi, it is a small 7 seat counter sushi bar in central Tokyo.
In sushi; the size of the cut, and the marriage between the rice’s size and the fish’s size distinguishes the style and taste. This is integral. Of course, the rice quality, and taste, cooking technique and finally the quality of the fish goes without saying.
So what is about Jiro that makes him so renowned; the answer is simple; publicity, a movie and the support of Michelin’s most powerful. They needed a grandfather, a figure to launch the Michelin. He was the closest to one of the most renowned, and important French chefs. Not to mention, Michelin is French, and there is no other cuisine in general that has influenced Japan’s everyday life more than any other cuisine.
When it comes to sushi, there are certainly plenty of options, less popular sushi counters, and maybe even more expensive. But when you are charged more than 40,000/person you are being “ripped off” unless you drink too much, and ask for seconds which is impolite given that sushi is portioned.
So why did those very sushi obscure sushi counters not make the Michelin’s list? The answer is because a Japanese chef permits no foreigners without an introduction and accompaniment by the client. At one time Jiro san was very strict and didn’t permit any foreigner to just walk in. He actually could become irate and throw them out. But these days, it doesn’t matter, at least to a Michelin star owner. The day you become Michelin, is the day you no longer make all the rules. The rules are Michelin rules, if you dare to change them, a letter, or letters to Michelin can cost you a star or worse. Sushi Araki once a 3 star disappeared from the list totally.
Foreigners are still in search of filling and fulling their Michelin dreams, but to eat what, if you have no proper and legitimate reference. For many foreigners Nobu is their reference. No disrespect intended, because he has changed Japanese food the same way Parker changed French wines. But eating sushi is much more than just an exercise of filling your tank, moreover, it is an exercise of understanding, respect, tradition, culture, technique. Most of all, fulfillment and interaction between nature and man, a convergence and balance at the hand and imagination of a chef’s individual talent and that connection and dedication of his customers.
If you are keen to try an alternate to Jiro, I suggest Hasaguchi san, a one star Michelin. His wife is very elegant and he has very good fish and good skill. I used to frequent his sushi counter when he had six seats in a tiny space, and of course no star. I still wonder why he joined Michelin but everyone gets tempted when relying on Japanese salary man to survive. Life is becoming so trendy in Japan that you do whatever you need to do, in order to survive.