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Asian Cleaver Fever

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Not done with wires.

The Asian continent is home to many culinary traditions, each distinct and unique. Many of these cuisines are noted for their extreme care and delicacy in balancing flavors and meticulous presentation; for example, a Japanese sushi chef will spend years learning to cook rice properly before they're allowed to touch a knife to a fish. From Korea's infinite varieties of kimchi, to Vietnam's pho noodle soup, to Thailand's love of fiery chilies, to India's mastery of spices, to China's wealth of regional cuisines, the flavors of the Orient are highly prized by eaters the world over.

In Western media, however? Asian food often means exactly one thing: theatrically swinging around knives, regardless of the environment, circumstances, or even the food being prepared. Whether it's a sushi feast or a humble plate of beef and broccoli, a fictional character cooking Asian food will often pick up a knife or cleaver and start cutting in all manner of exaggerated, theatrical, extremely dangerous ways, as though they're fighting a martial-arts battle instead of making dinner. Yet despite all of this, the cook isn't just swinging a blade around at random, their actual cuts can be inhumanly precise. When this happens, the character has caught a serious case of Asian Cleaver Fever.

While it does crop up in the Action Genre from time to time — especially when combined with the Chef of Iron trope — Asian Cleaver Fever is primarily a Comedy Trope. It's more commonly a Sight Gag, or a setup for a joke involving Amusing Injuries, than a serious plot point in itself. Thus, examples should be limited to instances where cooking in such a way would be absurd or at least unexpected, or where such behavior ends in Amusing Injuries, a fight, or some similar consequence.

Naturally, the idea that all — or even most — Asians cook with hazardously exaggerated knife work is nonsense. Asian cookery is no more theatrical or martial than any other type. Nevertheless, there is a tiny amount of Truth in Television to this trope, in the sense that a particular style of restaurants serving Asian food — typically referred to as "hibachi grill" (or, more precisely, teppanyaki) restaurants — really do incorporate knife acrobatics and general theatrics into the process of cooking and serving patrons. The most widely known example is the Benihana chain of restaurants. Given that Benihana started out when the popularity of Asian cuisine was still in its infancy in America, it's likely at least one source of inspiration for this trope.

Another possible inspiration may come from the cutlery used in Asian cookery, namely the caidao, or Chinese vegetable cleaver. It's a rather large and intimidating blade that certainly looks like a weapon, and swinging it around makes for a striking visual. However, despite its visual similarities to a Western meat cleaver, it's a fairly thin blade designed for everyday slicing and chopping, not heavy tasks like hacking meat or bone.

It's worth mentioning that this trope often plays into National Stereotypes — while the cook wildly flinging around knives need not be Asian to fit this trope, they very often are. Depending on how the trope is played, this can result in either a harmless, good-natured joke or a gag that's insulting or even kind of racist. However, this trope isn't strictly a Western one: it does appear in Asian media from time to time, often to drive home a character's skill with bladed weapons, or skill in the kitchen.

Almost always involves at least one Absurdly Sharp Blade. Can overlap with the Chef of Iron trope, especially the variety that uses cooking implements in their style of combat. May involve Martial Arts and Crafts, if the chef uses his knife skills for combat purposes or considers his cooking to be a martial art. Not to be confused with Asian Cleavage Fever. Compare Martial Arts for Mundane Purposes.


Examples

Anime & Manga

  • The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan: In the very first episode, Ryoko Asakura manages to cut a bunch of veggies in midair with extreme precision, which makes Kyon nervous, though he can't say why that is.
  • Fairy Tail: during a filler arc, Fried uses his swordsmanship to turn some flying fish into delicious-looking sushi... unfortunately, it does nothing to improve its abysmal taste.
  • Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic: Sharrkan's battle against a rampaging giant monster eel takes this bend to show his Implausible Fencing Powers, as in a few wide swings he decapitates the monsters, removes the fins, bones, scales, and inner organs and cuts the flesh in such way it falls into a beautiful sashimi composition.
  • In Toriko, sometimes chefs cooking this way (by swinging knives at incredibly fast speed) demonstrate their skill, preparing intricated food with great skill. Subverted during the Blue Grill Arc by Yuda, when he's seemingly wasting time by swinging his giant kitchen knife back and forth... only to reveal that he was actually "cooking" the surrounding air bubble to alter the gravity and avoid falling from a giant seesaw into a brazier of flames (It Makes Sense in Context ).

Comic Strips

Film — Animated

  • Madagascar: When Alex gets hungry, Rico the penguin prepares him a plate of sushi by putting on a headband, taking a knife in each flipper, slashing at the fish (which remains whole), tossing it up into the air, and having it land as perfect pieces of sushi, rice and all.
  • Shark Tale has a gag that may count as a downplayed example — it features the martial arms headband and a knife, but latter is only used to stab the counter.

Film — Live-Action

  • In Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Anthony, his family, and his girlfriend Celia go to a hibachi restaurant called Nagamaki's before prom. The chef rapidly flings sushi rolls at Ben, whose sleeve catches fire on a decoration as he moves around trying to catch them in his mouth.
  • Justified in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Our Chinese-American heroine Evelyn does have a scene where she does a lot of fancy knife work while cooking, but it's explicitly an Alternate Self who happens to be a hibachi chef at a restaurant where flashy tricks are a selling point.
  • In Police Academy 2, Capt. Pete Lassard visits a Benihana-style restaurant to meet with this brother, Commandant Eric Lassard, where the cook does all kinds of knife theatrics... much to Pete's chagrin. At the get-go, Pete pulls a gun on the cook when he plunges his knife into the wooden table as part of his act, and he later angrily asks the cook if all the theatrics are necessary. Alas, neither noticed that the goldfish Eric brought as a gift was left on the hibachi surface.
    Capt. Pete Lassard: (is hit in the head by a flying piece of shrimp) ...You stupid BASTARD!
  • Son of the Mask: At the end where Tim's new cartoon show has a baby giving his father a little Asian man chopping some sushi for him.
  • In the Stormbreaker film, there's a bit with an American woman making sushi, where she dresses up in a martial arts costume, swings knives around in a ridiculously dramatic way, and starts speaking Japanese.

Live-Action TV

  • The opening skit in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Riding With Death shows Mike having a flashback to his days as a teppanyaki chef. He cuts Crow's hand off whilst swinging knives around.
    Servo: Mike's dangerous enough just wielding that big, clunky body of his!
  • Saturday Night Live: Exaggerated and parodied in the "Samurai Delicatessen" sketches, which feature John Belushi as a samurai running the counter of a New York deli. Sketches feature the samurai angrily chopping up meat for sandwiches using his katana. One infamous gaffe was when Belushi accidentally hit veteran host Buck Henry in the forehead, causing Henry to wear a bandage for the rest of the episode.
  • In one episode of the mid-80s comedy-adventure series Sonny Spoon, Sonny is undercover as a cook at a Benihana-style Asian restaurant, doing the usual theatrical knife-flinging shtick. In so doing, he loses control of one of his knives and accidentally pins a guy's cigarette to the wall. He covers it by saying, "Prease, no smoking."
  • Soap: Jodie seems to be fond of taking his girlfriends to hibachi grills. He takes Carol, where she tells him that she's pregnant. He's nonplussed at best because he's gay (they did sleep together, but it was a one-night stand). The chef is so distracted by their conversation he accidentally stabs himself in the leg.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: For their first date Dick and Mary go to a Benihana-style restaurant where the chef performs tricks using food thrown to him by the diners. Mary gets carried away and throws a pepper mill at him, knocking him out cold. Dick takes over and actually turns out to be pretty skillful with the knife, even throwing in a joke where he pretends to cut his finger off.
  • The Muppets Mayhem: In the third episode Animal discovers that his wild drumming style translates extremely well to working as a tepanyaki chef. The owner of the restaurant declares him The Chosen One for how quickly he takes to it.
  • Yan Can Cook has chef Martin Yan chopping veggies rapid fire, likely playing up to this trope, for a Once an Episode signature move.

Video Games

  • In Breath of Fire 2 you visit a restaurant where they try to cook and serve you. This trope is in full effect — albeit mostly by implication due to Limited Animation — as each strike of WildCat's cleaver slashes you multiple times. You even have the option of being taught the move "Chop-Chop", which is pretty much this trope as an attack, by the chef after defeating him.
  • Bug Fables: Kut the mantis chef in the Golden Settlement can prepare meals for the party hibachi-style in a knife-slashing Big Ball of Violence. Funnily, he does this with various bug-sized ingredients that wouldn't usually need to be chopped up in real life, including leaves, honey, and water droplets.
  • Dead or Alive: There's a bit of animation showing Hitomi slicing veggies midair to make an omelet.
  • In Monster Hunter: Rise, the Gathering Hub animation for a pre-hunt meal involves a Felyne drawing a knife and using it to cut a large ball of dough into tiny pieces at lightning speed then resheathing his knife like an Iaijutsu Practitioner, just before his colleagues leap through the air to catch the pieces to reassemble them into dango.
  • In Ōkami, sidequest NPC Chef Umi's Cyclone Slice is exactly what it sounds like: slashing at a marlin that's bigger than he is fast enough to levitate it in a tornado of Razor Wind and having it land as five perfectly arranged sashimi platters, each decorated with a smaller marlin's head and tail.

Web Animation

  • Referenced in Yahtzee's review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, where the only way to survive monster encounters "is to flee like a man in an expensive suit from a teppanyaki restaurant."
    Imp in a chef's hat: CATCH THE FUCKING EGG

Webcomics

Western Animation

  • In the second episode of The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, the episode opens at an elementary school holding "Career Day", where one of the professionals is a sushi chef wearing golden samurai armor, who upon being introduced, immediately draws his katanas and leaps around the room screaming like a maniac.
  • In the Duckman episode "About Face", the titular Duck takes his butt-ugly date to a place featuring one of these, who happily chops away... Including after Duckman induces a power outage so he doesn't have to see his date's face. Various people are heard screaming about the chef cutting things other than the food.
  • Mojo Jojo does a hibachi-grill routine while cooking for The Powerpuff Girls when he has to babysit them. He professes to be "the best chef in Townsville", yet despite amazing the girls with knife-based stunts, they hate his food.
  • In The Simpsons episode "One Fish, Two Fish, Blow Fish, Blue Fish", the master sushi chef is shown swinging a knife around, tossing fish up in the air, and slicing through it several times while it hangs in midair. By contrast, the assistant sushi chef does no such thing while preparing Homer's fugu — he's too nervous and overwhelmed to make any such motions.
  • In the We Bare Bears episode "Losing Ice," Ice Bear is shown to be very skilled in cooking this way. His prowess gets him a job at the local Japanese restaurant Teppan Yaki, where he amazes the customers with his high-flying knife twirls.
  • In Solar Opposites, Cherie's proficiency with knives is justified by her background as a Benihana chef.

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