Friday, February 28, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Part 2

I'd like to draw upon another aspect of the Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary I mentioned in a separate post. 

Foodies are fascinated by what makes a chef, a dish, or a restaurant truly great--something beyond the norm.  There are many factors, of course, but one that often goes unnoticed is what happens long before the lights are ever turned on and the silverware (or chop sticks) are carefully placed on the table: sourcing.  Great chefs are very, very particular about their ingredients.  They go to extraordinary lengths to find not only olive oil, but the olive oil that comes from the first press of a particular kind of olive grown under just the right conditions.  They don't just look for watercress for a fresh salad, they search for weeks, months, or even years to find the organically-grown watercress from the multi-generation, family farm two hours outside of town. 

Jiro (well now his oldest son) won't just go to the Tokyo fish market at sunrise looking for tuna.  He deals exclusively with one tuna dealer who he considers to be a world-class tuna expert.  He knows his tuna dealer doesn't just buy whatever decent-looking tuna came in that day.  The dealer's philosophy is if there are 10 tuna at the market, by definition only one can be the best, and it's his job to determine which one it is and buy it.  If none meet his extremely high standards, there's no tuna that day.  Jiro only buys shrimp from an equally-qualified shrimp expert.  He only buys one kind of rice (that is extremely difficult to cook correctly) from one supplier.  It takes a chef years to find the right dealers and suppliers and to cultivate the trust and relationships that quite often become mutually exclusive.  That's when it gets exciting: when the best only deal with the best.

On my current assignment we are the prime and manage all of the PMO activities.  We might be considered the "chef" with the name on the door, but the program is a complex array of constantly shifting operations, logistics, and technology.  So when we needed to get into the digitization business, what did we do?  Go lease our own scanners and roll up our sleeves?  No.  We found a world-class digitization partner.  When we needed logistics and long-term storage, we didn't lease trucks and warehouse space, we found a world leader to partner with.  When we needed to build an enterprise service bus, link it to an enterprise content management system, hook that to a series of web services, and create connections to a custom portal, you guessed it, we brought on a handful of very smart technical employees and some carefully selected new partners.  Some of the relationships we began with this program, will become long-term, trusted partnerships that we'll rely on for years to come.     

At one point in the movie, Jiro admits that even though he gets most of the credit, the work is 95 percent complete by the time it gets to the front counter and he does his magic of slicing, shaping, serving, and smiling.  Other chefs come in and see that "simple" piece of sushi and can't understand how he's able to build such flavor with so few ingredients.  The truth is, it's taken years of shaking hands while drinking coffee together in the cold morning hours at the market, years of growing a skill set and reputation to a point where more exclusive suppliers take notice and begin calling, decades of being the one to turn on the lights in the morning with one hand while balancing a bag of fresh herbs in the other, months selecting and training the right staff in the fine details of preparation, and a lifetime of dedication to a craft.

So here's a toast to well-chosen partners! 

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