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Omaha Magazine

YOLO and The Art of Following Dreams: Curt Safranek's "Someday"

Apr 20, 2020 12:39PM ● By Tamsen Butler

Most people have a dream trip in their minds, but many of them assign the “someday” designation to taking the trip or instead simply resign to never going. After all, far too many obstacles can stop a person from taking a trip they’ve always wanted, whether it’s work or family obligations.

Curt Safrenek isn’t the type of person to stash dreams into the “someday” file in his brain. When he decided he wanted to journey to Japan to immerse himself in cuisine and culture, he made it happen. “Traveling to Japan to learn about their culture and cooking techniques had nothing at all to do with my current, primary occupation,” said the independent software engineer.

“My philosophy leans towards the idea of YOLO (you only live once)—and the fact that I am not getting any younger,” he added. “I had long had an interest in Japan, its food and culture. I had taken a Japanese language course in college around 25 years ago, which ignited my interest and desire to continue learning.” 

When he approached his wife, Linda, about planning a solo trip to Japan to learn about the culture and cooking techniques, she was all for it. “Curt quietly contemplates things on his own, gathers all his facts, and then brings these topics up with me,” she said. “So he pretty much had the details ironed out when he told me he wanted to go to Japan. I was only mildly surprised because this is how he rolls. It was a great opportunity to immerse himself in their culture and get in-depth learning about his favorite cuisine.”

Before leaving for his Japanese adventure in July 2018, Curt said he put in a “huge number of hours at my day job.” He scrambled to prepare everything for his month-long absence. Gustolab International arranged his homestay and activities in Japan. “For the month I was in Japan I stayed with a host couple—Susumu and Ruriko Miyamoto. My homestay with the Miyamotos was a huge part of why my trip was so successful and meaningful. We bonded very quickly and became quite close for me being there for such a short period of time. They were wonderful hosts, helping me learn some of the language (I am still horrible at speaking Japanese), cooking me many, many meals, taking me on excursions to other cities, restaurants, and cultural/historical landmarks, and showing me an extraordinary level of kindness and hospitality.”

“I didn’t go into the trip with a set of goals or list of things to learn,” he said. “Rather, I approached it with an open mind and took in as much as I could while there. It seems that much of what I took away from my time in Japan was more of a philosophy and way of thinking rather than a strict, prescriptive set of movements, skills, tasks, or techniques.” 

While in Japan, Safranek enjoyed foods that were new and different from typical American cuisine. “Many of the ‘street’ foods I came to really like included takoyaki (octopus in fried balls of batter), okonomiyaki (a savory pancake with cabbage), yakisoba (a wheat noodle dish with pork, cabbage, onions, and carrots topped with mayo and bonito flakes), and obviously ramen,” Safranek said.

“The sushi, which should go without saying, was amazing,” he continued. “The conveyor-belt sushi restaurants were great because the sushi never ends, it just keeps rolling past you on plates riding a conveyor-belt that stretches through the entire restaurant and into the back where they continually keep things rolling out.” 

Upon his return to America, Safranek immediately purchased some utensils he’d learned to use in Japan.

“An oroshigane, which is a type of food grater the grates much finer than a Western style grater, a set of very long chopsticks—the ones I have are a little over 16 inches, and a Japanese mortar (suribachi) and pestle (surikogi) that makes grinding nuts and seeds so much easier.” 

He also returned with a renewed dislike for wasting food. “I will say that my time in Japan definitely amplified my desire to avoid wasting anything,” he said. “In Japan I learned about their term for waste—mottainai (translated as ‘what a waste’), which seemed to be taken very seriously and practiced by everyone, not just by those preparing food, but by those eating it as well.”

“I can remember having a conversation with a number of people where we were talking about this concept/term. I related the usual American buffet situation where people go up to the buffet, fill up their plates with copious amounts of food, eat maybe half of it, then go back for more of something else, letting the untouched food be thrown away like it is no big deal. My story put looks of horror and disgust on the listeners’ faces—like I had just described some sort of heinous crime against humanity; this would never happen in Japan. This is just one example that highlighted one of the many disparities between the two cultures’ attitudes and practices, particularly with respect to food and food waste…which I firmly believe we Americans could learn a thing or two from the Japanese.”

Safranek would love to someday return to Japan to visit the Miyamotos and explore more of the country, but he doesn’t have any solid plans for future travels. His newfound cuisine now benefits his family, who are grateful for his skills in the kitchen. “Our family reaps the benefits every day of Curt’s passion and I have to say that I truly love it. Asian cuisine has become his favorite to prepare, so when he returned, he had further perfected something at which he was already very good,” said Linda. “Even before going, he made outstanding ramen, which takes him many days to prepare. We don’t always know the true impact of his trip because he was good at this prior to going.”

“I have thought about starting a private/specialty catering business at some point in the future. I do have some catering experience through culinary school as well as through personal/private engagements, but right now I do not have enough time to devote to that enterprise,” said Safranek.

But will a man who has a history of following his dreams eventually follow his dream of someday opening a catering business? His response: “Someday.”  

This article was printed in the May 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.