Sunday 17 April 2022

Wilko dreams of dashi (2022)

The documentary, Jiro dreams of Sushi, focuses on the 85 year old sushi chef Jiro Ono, doing what a Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties is supposed to do, that is to demonstrate such intense dedication to their craft that they completely transcend what the basic version of the same craft is capable of delivering.  In the case of Jiro, his sushi is so good that his tiny (10 seat) Tokyo subway sushi shop repeatedly won 3 Michelin stars. He is widely recognised as a ‘living national treasure’.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the UK does not have any equivalent way of conferring high status on outstanding craft practitioners.  However, such levels of craft do exist. A few weekends ago, my son and I experienced something similar to the experience that Jiro delivers to his customers, when we spent more than three hours in a tiny one Michelin star restaurant called Fraiche in Oxton, Birkenhead (on the night we were there, only 4 customers were eating, but more frequently there  are 8 - 10 customers). 

The restaurant is owned and run by the chef Marc Wilkinson. On the night we went, there  were only two members of staff, Wilkinson, and a waitress/sommelier. The food was exceptionally good, delivered in about 13 tiny ‘courses’, each of which came with an explanation of where the ingredients had come from and what was special about the dish. The experience was wonderful, because it was an immersion into the complete dedication that Wilkinson has to his craft. As he has said:

Fraiche is a very personal journey for me, building a modern cuisine on a classical trained foundation to keep my sensibilities in check. My expanding cooking techniques and cutting edge preparations help me to express myself, thus enabling me to offer our guests a complete "experience", taking them on both a culinary and visual journey.

On reflection, although his customers are of very high importance to Wilkinson, I got the impression that he may have been almost as happy cooking all of the food he made without any customers being present. His focus and drive to create the food that he sees and tastes in his minds eye, is the primary thing, and the fact that he has paying guests who want to eat his food, helps to subsidise and validate his efforts.

And yes, having spent an evening with Wilkinson, I am convinced that he does dream of dashi (a Japanese broth which is most commonly made from an edible kelp called kombu).