Zia Hassan

A Hibachi Contemplates Life

+++ title = “05” date = 2019 +++

I love hibachi food, like Benihana. So much that I always ask to go there on my birthday. It’s like a little journey for me, and the white sauce is nearly perfect.

From the moment we arrive, it’s already a party atmosphere. I get to sit next to some people I don’t know, who have annoying kids but seem as excited to be there as I do. Is it someone in their group’s birthday? According to them, yes. But it could be a lie.

Next comes the chef. He’s kind of a dick and he keeps ribbing me and insulting my wife. He does a little performance, and takes a stack of onions and lights some oil inside creating a volcano. There’s also a cute rubber doll he has that pees Sake into your mouth. The jokes about “wanna see an egg roll.” The little concert that he gives with the kitchen utensils. Tossing the knife in the air and catching it before it hits someone in the eye. It’s almost like being at a circus but perhaps a little more niche.

But there’s one part of the meal that I really dislike and that’s the shrimp tossing part. Chef goes around the table and flips a piece of a shrimp toward everyone’s mouth, and almost everyone is able to catch the shrimp in one or two tries. Not me. And so he throws a few more shrimp toward me and they bounce off of my nose and onto the floor. Everyone at the table laughs at me like it’s my fault. But that’s bullshit because in this case, my mouth is a hoop and the shrimp is a basketball. And no one blames the hoop when a shot is missed in basketball.

And afterward, the chef bounces off to the back of the restaurant to refill his cart. The steamed rice on my plate is still in the shape of a heart. There’s white sauce dripping over everything.

And in the back of the restaurant somewhere, the chef is contemplating his career. The next morning as he’s making pancakes for his kids, he tosses blueberries in their mouth and wonders what upward mobility looks like. It would be nice, he thinks, to work in the back somewhere, to be unseen. To be a phantom chef with no audience. To make food simply for the joy of making it, without all of the theatrics.

Then he grabs his tall chef hat, taps his spatula against the kitchen counter, packs a hardboiled egg in his hat, and heads out to the door to work.

Like any other day.