You know how some meals are so good they transcend mere dining and become something bigger? How the skill and soul put into their preparation is not just cooking, but something more profound?
Maybe it’s your grandmother’s Thanksgiving spread, or even your kid’s first attempt at breakfast in bed, or simply food so freaking delicious that it fills you will pleasure and joy.
I had one of those meals recently at Umi Sushi in Buckhead. I went with a pal, who is a chef and knows many people in Atlanta’s restaurant scene. Inside Umi’s swank dining room, the staff and chef Fuyuhik Ito recognized my friend and seated us in the center spot at the sushi bar, where Ito told us to put down our menus because he would be preparing our meal, one item at a time.
I watched him slice magnificent bricks of fresh tuna, salmon and more, place them over warm pods of rice, decorate them with various vegetables and fruits. I was in melt-in-your-mouth foodie heaven, nodding and smiling and admiring and enjoying. Flame charred beef, the delight of the uni…
Around us, we overheard so many other diners admiring the visual beauty of the fish as art. And, indeed, the plates looked exquisite and, somehow, imminently devourable, as well. Pristine, fresh, a little roe sprinkled on this one, maybe wasabi applied ever-so-lightly.
Art? Yes, but… But there’s something more… What is it, I asked him. Are you telling a story with each meal, the way you serve one distinct plate after another?
“No, it’s not a story. And everybody says it’s art, but it’s not art to me,” Ito said. “To me, it’s jazz.”
And he explained how he was building our meal spontaneously, noticing how we reacted to notes and textures, incorporating our reactions with the day’s catch (flown in from Japan), what else he had going on in the kitchen, and what he wanted to share with us.
Art? Sure. A narrative? Maybe.
But sushi as jazz? Oh, yeah, man. That night in Buckhead, oh, yeah.
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