Learning from the Japanese
“Japan’s very interesting. Some people think it copies things. I don’t think that anymore. I think what they do is reinvent things. They will get something that’s already been invented and study it until they thoroughly understand it. In some cases, they understand it better than the original inventor.”
When Steve Jobs first said these words, he was referring to Japan’s technological industry. The practice of studying someone else’s product\design and then reinventing it into your own masterpiece is a practice used in many walks of life, far beyond just electronics. Whether we’re talking about the Roman Empire in virtually any area (Seriously, have you read the Aeneid?), advertising, governments, etc, this method is quite common in the world, but it’s perhaps most common in the culinary world. In fact, “reinventing” classics has to be one of the most popular cooking methods in the 21st Century.
We can learn much from the Japanese, and I’m not just talking about their impressive interior decorating or effective gun control laws*. I am, not surprisingly, talking about their recipes. Asian-American\Southwestern fusion would be my very favorite cuisine. The contrast of spices and merging of Asian culinary finesse and flavorful American spice produces an extremely unique meal. That is why, on Saturday, I decided to take a risk in a foray into the Asian world, much like Commodore Perry and other explorers or William McKinley and other western imperialists. But, rather than desecrate, conquer, exploit, condemn and colonize, my plan was merely to make an impeccable dinner.
Designing gourmet burgers is a habit of mine (Which is not, in any way, a bad habit), but I’ve kept my designs somewhat confined to the Americas and Europe (Sort of like a self imposed “Monroe Doctrine”, except not really). In other words, this was definitely a new challenge. The burger was supposed to be Medium Rare, but as I’m afraid of fire\afraid of BBQs\really afraid of fire, I let someone else cook the burger, leaving it…well…“medium”. Then, I made a wasabi mayonnaise to add some heat to the meal. I used a lot of wasabi as I love spicy food, but ultimately you can add as much or as little as you like so long as the subtle flavor is still there. I then took some of the wasabi mayonnaise an added it to a Napa Cabbage cole slaw, which in addition to the cabbage had lemon juice, cilantro and green onions. The burger itself was served on a Kaiser roll, with a slice of tomato and thin slices of cucumber placed below the burger (The cucumbers were marinated in Italian Vinegar, which, in addition to the Kaiser Roll and Japanese Wasabi, completed the tour of the former Axis Powers). Lastly, the burger was topped with crispy beer-battered onion strings, slices of avocado and the wasabi cole slaw.
What was the result? The result was a culinary victory akin to the Japanese at the Battle of Tsushiama Straits (Read about that some day. It involves brilliant naval warfare tactics, the Nobel Peace Prize and Teddy Roosevelt. Suffice to say, it ends well). The crunch of the Napa cabbage and crispy onion strings provided the much needed textural element. However, the sweetness and slight tangy taste of the marinated cucumbers kept the balance of powers situated. Throw in the creamy component included with the avocado and then the spice of the wasabi, and the burger masterpiece was complete.
So, to use debate terminology, what’s the impact? Save from an amazing meal, what did we gain\learn from this burger? I think burgers, much like the one I designed, give us a chance to experiment. Since burgers and sandwiches are so ordinary to the public eye, they are the best vehicles to experiment, to fuse, to reinvent. Japanese cuisine and American food are hardly similar on the surface, but the vehicle of the burger can bring them together. The burger can take otherwise contrary elements, and mold them into one, perfect, solitary design. So, go out there! Cook! Reinvent the ordinary! Unify contrary flavors! Learn from the Japanese and from all cultures!
Who knows what the world would be like if we handled racial relations the way I handle hamburger designs…but, alas, that’s another story.
*And to all my 2nd Amendment loving friends, please remember that I just gave you the recipe to an amazing burger before you start coming over with your assault weapons to attack me.