I had heard vaguely of blowfish before coming to Tokyo. So when I was invited to do a cooking class at a blowfish restaurant I was not quite sure what to expect. A member of the Tokyo Entrepreneurs Organisation invited 32 of us to witness what others just don’t get to do back of the stage at a blowfish restaurant.
We were met by a person sized blowfish waving excitedly at our arrival and then we were each given a blowfish happy coat. Had the restaurant been transformed we were split into four groups of eight. The actual restaurant kitchen was tiny, but our hosts had created cooking stations in other areas of the restaurant.
Our first stop was tempura cooking. Each of us had two attendants, we learned to mix the batter, the trick is to keep the batter very cold, and the oil very hot. Drizzling a chopstick of batter over the cooking item creates the wiry batter splatter of tempura.
The next station included the sharpest knives used for slicing a type of radish paper thin to make a garnish.
To prepare a blow fish (highly toxic fish) the chef has had to complete a two-year accreditation, our chef had been preparing blowfish for 15 years. That was his sole role at the restaurant and on any given day he prepares 150 blowfish. He was so fast at cleaning, skinning and filleting the fish. (the gizzards have to be incinerated they are that poisonous). This restaurant has its own breeding farm for blowfish.
We were then shown how to take the fillets of blowfish and slice it into sashimi. One swift downward slice, with the knife held at exactly the right angle. Whilst it looked like either a snapper or bream the texture was something completely different, it was amazingly chewy.
To finish our cooking experience we learned to rhythmic motion of creating sushi rice balls and then finishing each. At each station we had been accompanied by several attendants, the whole program had run to clockwork, we had eaten our cooking as we had gone…we then were seated at our tables.
Only to discover that lunch was to be served, amazing platters of sushi, sashimi and of course blowfish. A saki tasting to follow, I had no idea there were so many different types of saki. One, which I struggled with, was a warm saki, which had a lid on it, our host then lit the saki as soon as the lid was lifted. So that if flamed, the real surprise though was that there were blowfish fins (cooked) but soaking in the saki and these were the delicacy to munch on whilst sipping the saki. (A bit early in the day for me).
My fellow cooking pupils agreed that this was probably one of the most fascinating experiences, the Japanese are simply so organised. It was a completely new definition of hospitality. The owner has 40 blowfish restaurants, he recently completed a successful IPO (stock exchange listing). Yet there was such an amazing level of intimacy achieved with customers. Each one coming to this special occasion restaurant, and spending at least AUD120 for a plate of blowfish sashimi.
There were lessons here on planning, process, scalability, and customer experience. From the second we arrived, to the moment we left (showered in gifts) we knew we were at a special place and that we were special. It made me wonder what I can do to keep truly delighting my customers.