Although we may choose to leave, we are all products from where we came.
In Sunday night’s episode of “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain focused less on place and more on person. The person in question was Masa Takayama, a Michelin-starred sushi chef with restaurants in New York and Las Vegas.
Takayama rose to prominence after moving to the United States, quickly becoming known for his innovative and creative combinations in sushi. He uses ingredients like foie gras and risotto in conjunction with time-honored Japanese technique to create completely unique (and incredibly expensive) dishes.
After high school, Takayama left his provincial hometown of Nasushiobara to study at the famous Ginza Sushi-ko in Tokyo. The lengthy course is rigorous, demanding and far from glamorous; Apprentices must spend two years working in the kitchen—generally starting washing dishes—before they are even allowed to touch the rice.
Once they have mastered the rice, apprentices may then move on to slicing the fish. They will start making nigiri, to serve guests at the bar. Eventually, the sushi chef will teach them how to assemble the perfect sushi. The entire education takes at least seven years and many do not finish.
Takayama took Bourdain back to Ginza Sushi-ko to relive his glory days, where it was revealed that Takayama’s creative impulses extend far beyond the kitchen. Throughout the episode, he is pictured as a man of many talents: working with artisans to create the dishware for his restaurant, playing the saxophone and even beating a high schooler in a Kendo (Japanese fencing) competition.
While still in high school, Takayama and his friends would make bonfires, cook fresh fish and talk. They recreated this and reminisced on their youths. During that time, Takayama would tell his friends that he was going to leave and go to America. He eventually did, making a successful career for himself.
However, it would be incorrect to say that Takayama looks back to his country and his hometown. For the renowned sushi chef, tradition is present in every innovation. His two homes and two lives—a revered master chef in New York City and a boy who grew up delivering sashimi on his bicycle in Japan—are one and the same.
“We all come from someplace,” Bourdain commented in the episode. Even though Takayama left Japan, its traditions have never left him.