Lessons from the Rice Chefs of Morimoto Asia

Lessons from the Rice Chefs of Morimoto Asia
Photo Credit:  Tor

When my daughter, her friend, and I dined at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs recently, we did a few things backwards.

As our server, Roberto, prepared to give me the bill, we asked if we could have the warm, wet cloths that the diners adjacent to us had received for cleaning their hands. “Yes,” he said, “you can, but in the Japanese tradition it is more typical to use the warm cloths to clean your hands as you prepare to eat sushi.”

We had followed the lead of the diners adjacent to us, who had seen the diners next to them get towels, and asked for their own. Apparently none of us fully understood the Japanese tradition of oshibori (but we still enjoyed the warm towels).

Our mis-timed request for the towels was not the only thing we didn’t fully understand that evening.

Behind The Scenes

After he had cleared our plates, Roberto asked me about one other component of my meal.

Roberto to me: “Did you notice anything different about the rice?”

Me: “It was brown instead of white?” (I didn’t think that was the case — I had noticed the option on the menu to order brown rice sushi instead of white rice sushi, and had not chosen the brown rice option.)

Roberto: “No.”

Stumped, I gave up.

Roberto began an explanation that held me spellbound and left me thinking as much about a team player I had never seen as I had thought about the server, the restaurant’s greeters, or the manager who paid a visit to our table.

He explained that Morimoto puts a priority on how its rice is prepared and specially polished, that the rice is the first matter of business each day.

The first position a Morimoto food preparer has is “rice.” Just rice. The people who prepare the rice spend roughly two years in the role, making sure the rice that is incorporated into the establishment’s sushi is high quality, and polished to perfection.

Once someone has proven themselves by competently handling their responsibilities for rice, the next step is to cut fish. At this step in a cook’s career, they are not within sight of the restaurant’s patrons at all. Having proven themselves with their proficiency at rice, they are given additional responsibilities to prepare the fish which will be used to create sushi.

After another period of one to two years, the cook is allowed to work within sight of the patrons, preparing sushi. However, they are not allowed to interact with the patrons at all.

The highest level of responsibility is to work at the sushi bar, in a capacity that encourages interacting with the patrons.

The Efforts We Don’t Recognize

After we paid our bill and moved on to our next destination (which, let’s be honest, was dessert — we were at Disney after all!), I couldn’t help thinking of how nonchalantly I had sent the remainder of my meal, undoubtedly with uneaten grains of rice, back to the kitchen.

It is not uncommon to send some partial meal remnants back to the kitchen, and I don’t mean I am remiss for not having scarfed up every single grain of rice; but at the same time, I sort of felt like I had discounted some aspiring cook’s hard work and ambitions.

I was also reminded of efforts I have made, whether at work, at home, or in my community, that felt exquisitely meaningful to me but either didn’t have the results I intended or had outcomes which remained a mystery.

Petals Of Love

I have a friend who makes exquisite fabric flowers. Although her techniques have changed a bit over the years and she has acquired some machinery that helps her produce her beautiful creations less labor-intensively, she used to shape every single petal by holding the fabric just the right distance from an open flame to create the slightest curl to each petal.

My friend shared once about making a large quantity of her flowers for a community event. After all the hours of hand-shaping petals, the flowers were barely noticed among the other swag, some left behind on the dining tables or ignored. The event’s attendees didn’t know how much painstaking work had gone into creating each bloom. I have to think they would have taken more care if they had understood the love and passion with which they were created.

Who Is Making a Difference For You Behind the Scenes?

Has someone in your world quietly, passionately, lovingly committed themselves to creating a quality product or experience?

Have you wondered if the care you take with the responsibilities and people entrusted to you matters?

Just like the custodians of the rice at Morimoto, renewing our attention to the small details unlocks potential: for us to see ourselves making a greater contribution and for others to appreciate how something as small as a grain of rice can represent so much more.


Filed As:  quality, responsibility

Meet Paula Kiger

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Paula received her M.S. in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. Previously, she coordinated the Internship Program at Fordham University and worked for Florida’s Healthy Kids program, which provided insurance to uninsured children. She has proofread professionally for Ballantine Books, has edited for numerous authors, and enjoys social media immensely. She is a NASA Social alum, Fitfluential Ambassador and a Charity Miles All Star.

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What People Are Saying

  • Paula, thank you for sharing this experience. Isn’t it so true? Many of us live in a world where finished products are right in front of us, in plenty. It’s so easy to take for granted the effort and skill it took to create these things we take for granted, whether it be a product or service. Your post will definitely prompt me to look at my world differently and notice, and acknowledge where possible, the gift of someone else’s attention and effort to make my world beautiful or convenient.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read, Mary! The experience was definitely a reminder for me!

  • I know what you mean, Paula. I love this article so much. It touches on things I have often wondered about. In today’s economy (not financial but social) it seems like there is no honor in all the work that goes on behind the scenes. Nobody stops to admire a foundation – yet it’s the basis on which a structure will stand. I try super hard to require no recognition or credit because that helps tremendously in preventing stray feelings that are “meaningful to me but either didn’t have the results I intended or had outcomes which remained a mystery.” I wish we could always give the applause, the thanks, the recognition – but we suffer from human imperfections. We are told as children to find satisfaction with a job well done and if we have done our best, we can be proud of our accomplishment. We grow to adults still never quite grasping that truth. If we’ve done our best we have done all we can. The rest is just a bonus.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments (and your shares), Jane! I think especially in that Orlando environment where it is so “fun” and there is so much instant gratification, it gave me pause to think of someone who had been there hours before me, hoping I would enjoy my meal.

  • A beautiful article! I once saw an interview with Maya Angelou and she spoke about entering the produce department at a supermarket. She was in awe of all the colors and shapes and spoke with gratitude for all the hands it took to bring this great abundance to the market.

    Thank you so much for this article!! 🙂

    • Thanks, Richard — I really like your example from Maya Angelou.

  • Sometimes we get caught up in the busyness and business of life and unfortunately need the cosmic 2 x 4 whack to pay attention to the small things (because they’re really the big things). Thanks for the whack, Paula!

    • Yeah, some of the important messages in our lives require a whack rather than a nudge, don’t they? Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Great reminder. It is interesting to think about the things others do to help us. I hope to better appreciate those contributions of others in the future. Thanks!

    • Acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of those around us (especially the unseen ones) is something that is so easy to let slip. I am grateful for a fun night with my daughter and her friend that ALSO brought with it a lesson.

  • What I love about this piece is bringing to light the attention to detail and a sense of order that Morimoto has (and that I often don’t have) I think it’s about culture. Our culture is more about creating a genius shortcut, not about spending 6 years or more learning your craft.

    When I teach acting or performance, I often relate this story: Before acting schools were a thing, you would start off sweeping up the place, and 25 years later you were an actor, having slowly worked your way up and lived a life in the theatre, and having all those experiences. Acting school is taking that 25 years of experience and gleaned knowledge and trying to cram it into 2 years. The knowledge learned can be taken in, but not the experience and wisdom.

    • Agree. So much about culture. I am often on the fence when trying to bestow wisdom on my kids (that’s probably my first mistake!) in trying to explain the value of “paying your dues” but I think there is tremendous power in learning the inherent joy in doing the small things and the role the small things play in feeling rewarded for the big things.

  • Ah–behind the scenes. Love the article on so many levels. First, “we don’t know what we don’t know”. In so many of our interactions, we see or experience the end result and not all the steps that went into it. The ability to say thank you down-the-line is critical for a servant leader. Second:” how often do I take things for granted… like rice! Who knew. The Japanese have a single word when they say “grace”. “Itadakimasu”, as I was told, is a thank you for every thing that went into the item on your plate: the sun, rain, the farmers, those who transported the food, those who prepared it,, the servers, etc. Lovely, thought and something to keep in mind. Indeed, we are all woven together

    • Eileen, thank you for these extended thoughts on the subject — I agree and love the emphasis on woven grace.

  • I must admit that when I first started reading your article, I originally intended to skim it. I’m a head of school at a Christian international school in South Korea and time is always short. Your article was shared with me, with an encouragement to read it. So… I read it. As I moved past the first couple of paragraphs, I was more and more interested in what would come next. I live in Asia, where rice is served with every meal. I remember recently, while in the Philippines, that I would shove the rice aside during meals and just eat the main entree. Now you have me thinking more about the “little things.” My comment is not really about eating rice, rather, it is about appreciating all of the little things that add up to a more fully lived life. We need – I need – to slow down and appreciate all of God’s creation, all of the time. Thank you for reminding me of this life lesson.

    • I am so touched by your comment, Linroy, and I am grateful that you kept reading! We all need reminders to slow down and appreciate the beautiful things in our lives, seen and unseen. Thank you again.

  • This was so beautiful! It can be tough when it seems that our efforts go unnoticed, but luckily we have a Father who sees all!

    • So true! Thanks for visiting, reading and commenting. 🙂

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