Japanese Restaurants in New York

Food for Thought

This is pickled mackerel sushi I made. It’s popular in Japan, but we rarely see it in New York, probably because mackerel is too fishy for the American palate. There aren’t enough Japanese people living here to make it worthwhile for restaurants to serve them.

I came across this New York Times blurb about “Kaiseki Room by Yamada.” Browsing through the photos, I became pretty sure it was another instance of a white entrepreneur selling a Japanese chef. Sure enough, it’s owned by The Group, an all-white restaurant group with one French, one Italian, and three Japanese restaurants. This is how most high-end Japanese restaurants in New York are today. (And, most low-end ones are owned by Chinese.)

Many New Yorkers are suckers for these high-end Japanese restaurants, but they might as well be a franchise. Given enough budget, pretty much any random Japanese chef could make up dishes that satisfy this clientele. Call him “Master Chef”; what would these Americans know?

Now, I’m not decrying “cultural appropriation.” Japan is a rich country; if you want to exploit its culture, it’s a fair game. After all, the Japanese exploit other cultures left and right too. I’m simply saying these high-end Japanese restaurants are boring. They don’t deserve the attention they get.

But the privilege some white people have in this country is quite clear in this context. When Chinese people try the same thing, they can only make a little more than they could by selling Chinese food. When white people do it, with their access to capital, the press, real estate, influencers, and tastemakers, it becomes a lucrative investment.

I was just reading about how Bill Gates’ mom introduced him to the chairman of IBM to sell his MS-DOS, which is often described as “the deal of the century.” Without that intro, he would likely be nobody today. On top of it, his grandfather left him a million-dollar trust fund. I didn’t know.

It’s our fault, too, for hero-worshipping these privileged people and for being seduced by the glitz and glamour of fine dining. “American Dream” is a fantasy that allows us to willingly ignore ugly realities. After all, the main purpose of fantasy is to escape reality.