Max put his whole heart into creating a memorial tribute to Tokanada, his garnishing teacher and beloved mentor. We invited Cutlass and Bobo to the ceremony.
Max spent lots of time in the kitchen fashioning tiny Samurai swords from asparagus spears with thin slices of carrots cut into dragon designs, small Zen scrolls from jicama and pimentos, inlaid fans from long radishes and red bell peppers.
For the centerpiece, he chiseled Tokanada’s bust from a gourd and lit it from inside. He circled it with onion chrysanthemums, radish pompoms and cherry blossoms shaped from water chestnuts dipped in beet juice.
Cutlass and Bobo arrived just as I was lighting the candles around the pool and the low dining table with cushions on four sides.
“This setting is just divine!” Cutlass rhapsodized clutching his sequined kimono and gesturing with his fan.
“Nothing’s worse than a train wreck of an arrangement!”
“Sooooooooo Sylvia and Max,” Bobo raved. “Simply adore the centerpiece.” His silver kimono glittered in the candlelight.
When we were seated on the cushions, Max poured hot Saki from a ceramic bottle into four delicate drinking bowls.
“How delightful,” Cutlass said. “We’ve never had Saki, have we, dear?”
“No,” Bobo said, “How potent can rice liquor be?”
We toasted Tokanada and sipped.
Cutlass smacked his lips. “Curiously bracing!”
Bobo said, “Max, tell us about Tokanada.”
Max adjusted the red sash on his black kimono. “As a boy, Tokanada was a dreamer. He would look out the window of his family’s humble house and, by the light of the full moon, observe the landscape outside the window: mountains, lake, fields, woods and streams. “
“I love humble beginnings,” said Cutlass, who himself had come from a remote American mountain town. “Cheers!”
Max poured another round of Saki and continued. “His father was a green grocer with a stall in the marketplace of a rural Japanese village and was well respected for offering the best, freshest vegetables and fruits to his customers. Unfortunately, though, he was hopeless at arranging them.
“One day, ten-year-old Tokanada said, ‘Please, Honored Father, may I arrange the produce for you?’
“His father laughed but was pleased that his 10-year-old son took such an interest. ‘Do what you can, my son.’
Bobo nodded. “Nothing’s worse than a train wreck of an arrangement!” He held out his bowl. “Any Saki left?”
“Tokanada arranged the produce into a landscape with eggplant mountains, a daikon lake, spinach fields, bamboo shoot woods, and turnip streams. He worked all the produce in and even built the nobleman’s house on the mountain from carrots. Every day he created a new landscape. Customers admired Tokanada’s work and the business flourished.
“One day the nobleman rode past the stall in his limousine and stopped to admire the skillfully arranged produce, especially his magnificent house on the mountain fashioned from carrots. ‘Who has created such appeal with only modest produce?’ he asked.
“Tokanada’s father pushed the boy forward. ‘My son, sir!’
“The nobleman’s eyebrows lifted. ‘I will send him to mukimoto school where he can learn all about fruit and vegetable garnishing. Then he can work in my house. My family and friends will be impressed.’
“It was a tempting offer but the boy, tears in his eyes, said, ‘I don’t want to leave my family.’
“His father said, ‘Don’t be stupid like me. Better yourself!’
“And so, the nobleman sent Tokanada to the best mukimoto school and after Tokanada was apprenticed at the most famous restaurant in Tokyo. When he was 15 he came back to his village and worked for the nobleman garnishing for the nobleman’s many parties. He caught the eye of important guests who encouraged him to found his own school that became the famous The Way of the Radish.”
I went to pour more Saki for Cutlass and Bobo but they were now using the cushions for pillows and snored softly. Either Max’s story or the Saki had worked its magic.
“Tokanada would be pleased,” Max said. “Either way, they were soothed.”
We had yet to serve the hibachi chicken, prawns and sliced steak. And I hadn’t even told them my adventures in Japan!
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