Day 38. Kobe beef and the way of tea.
The more time I spend in Japan, the more I notice the link of “Tea” running through everything (Service, food, design, architecture, etc). What I mean by “Tea” is a certain awareness, method and attention to whatever is at hand. The process outlined and propagated by Sen-No-Rikyu was ultimately an excerise in dedicating yourself to the moment. Gift wrapping in Japan is “Tea”. Sushi chefs making sashimi is “Tea”. The city residents hosing the sidewalk each morning is “Tea”. Certainly it exists everywhere, but something about seeing it in a foreign place helps magnify its presence.
Nowhere was it easier to see than a meal I ate with my Dad and some close friends in Tokyo. The word got out that my pops wanted to experience real Kobe beef, and my dear friends being so hospitable and attentive (the “Tea” of service), booked a table at the Okura Hotel.
The meal was wonderful; Near perfect. The service was impeccable. The company, the best. But what struck me was the passion, persistence and attentiveness of the gentleman preparing the meal. Of course, I figured it would be a great chance to interview a “master”. So I did. Table side.
Murai san has been preparing Real Kobe beef for 18 years. In the beginning He was hired to clean the surface of the grills and has worked his way to the top. He studied all things bovine for 1 year before he was even allowed handle the meat. His graduation to the big leagues was all the chefs gathered around his grill sampling his cooking. He passed first try.
He began the meal by preparing the cuts, displaying them and explaining their origin in detail. Detail means about 10 minutes of talking. He explained the steaks family tree (Real Kobe must be from a small circle of cattle), the cut, the amount of marbling, and what we could expect the differences between to cuts to mean in terms of taste. You could see his interest and pride in the way he spoke about it. Never did I see him glance at his watch or show signs of wishing he was elsewhere. He was invested in the process and truly gratified that we were such attentive listeners.
He spoke several times about his desire to keep learning, training and studying. It was inspiring. I realized we were in a way, all partaking in a Tea Ceremony of sorts. I suppose he was the host and we all the guests. Like Cha-No-Yu, we asked questions about the meat (Tea), grill (Kama) and the utensils used to prepare the steak (teaware). Tea Ceremony, as my man Tracey Ryans always says, is really any gathering of people who are truly invested in spending that time together.
And yes Kobe is exclusive and expensive and something rare. But that was not point or even the best part. The five of us could have been making s’mores and it would have been special. The quality of the experience was as important as the quality of the product (a great product never hurts of course).
We at Kettl are always on the look out for “Tea Ceremony” wherever we travel. Kettl is planning specific gatherings for the fall and winter to celebrate the spirit of “Tea”. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the invite.
Thank you to my dad, Hiro san, Tsuge san, and of course Murai san for sharing in a great Tea Ceremony together. Tea is everywhere. Enjoy it.
Oh, and the steak was RIDICULOUS.