Our iconic dishes series takes a look at some of the world's most famous chefs as we take a moment to appreciate the masterpieces they create and their contribution to food.René Redzepi, Massimo Bottura and Grant Achatz are some of the chefs we have covered in the series so far and now we want to concentrate on the work of chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, an ambassador of Nikkei cuisine in Peru and the owner of the Maido restaurant, currently number one on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list.
The immigration of Japanese people to Peru was a contributing factor to the creation of Nikkei cuisine. It is the union of two international cooking styles, the marriage of flavour, culture and technique in the kitchen.Tsumura says the DNA of Nikkei in Peru is a mixture of citrus, spice and soy but he describes his own cooking as "80/20 Peruvian food with the Japanese elements of techniques, cuts, broths, dashi, umami, knife techniques and products like miso, soy sauce and ponzu."
Below we will take a look at some of the iconic dishes from Tsumura's hyper-delicious, umami-laden brand of Nikkei cuisine. 1: Nigiri
Nigiri is where the chef and his restaurant excel. Using the basis of rice - a classic Japanese staple - and topping it with all manner of unique flavors, Tsumura uses Nigiri on his menu to tell stories. Some show off Japanese technique of perfectly sliced fish, while others playfully riff on Peruvian traditions in delicious ways. Like the wagyu steak topped with quail egg yolk, an obvious reference to the traditional Peruvian plate of steak and eggs, however, at Maido the yolk has been injected with yuzu for yet another hit of Japan. The chef is famous for creating a versatile mix of nigiri.
This dish shows perfectly how great technique can be used to refine what looks like a simple sandwich. Anyone who has eaten this dish will tell you how delicious it is. It's made with paiche fish which is deep fried to resemble the classic chicharon, normally made in Peru using pork. This perfectly, fluffy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside fish is then placed inside a cloud-like steamed bun - it's a dish people order again. 3: 50-hour cooked short rib
Yet another triumph of technique and an example of a good use of umami. This dish sees Tsumura borrow from Peruvian-Chinese influence called Chifa as he serves the sticky, deep shortrib alongside fried rice. This dish is also often served with an egg yolk and the diner encouraged to mix it in with the rice for an even more velvety finish. As you can see from the video it's spoon soft and we once witnessed the chef serve about 50 of them in a restaurant, all with spoons.
4: Liquid Nitrogen Ceviche
This ceviche takes the ingredients of Peru, the techniques of Japan and mixes them with modern innovations for a dish that exemplifies perfectly the cross roads that Tsumura and Maido sit at. This is the restaurant's famous take on Peru's national dish of ceviche - a dish that was influenced by the Japanese and one that many Peruvians use as a national identity card today in the kitchen. Using liquid nitrogen, Tsumura takes the leche de tigre - a mix of lime juice, chili and fish stock and freezes it, presenting a sharp, ultra fresh take on the usual liquid broth. This is then topped with different fish - the one above demonstrating yet more Japanese technique. 5: Pulpo al Olivo:
Classed as one of the first Nikkei combinations in Peru, the mix octopus and olive seen on the right is now distinctly linked to Nikkei cuisine in the country, as Micha says, "50 years ago no one in Peru ate Octopus - the fishermen would throw them away. You would go to the beach and see all these octopus on the floor and the Japanese would go and pick them up". The dish is a great example of how Nikkei is the Japanese adapting their own style, technique and traditions to the local ingredients and the super soft bite of octopus at Maido is a refined take on the classic combo, with a creamy square of olive topped with crunchy quinoa.
As with all chefs in Peru, Tsumura looks to incorporate ingredients from across the different regions of the country. One of his latest tasting menus used the Amazon for a basis of exploration and one of the stand out dishes was Churo: Amazon river snail. The large snail is cooked in shoyu and served inside its shell with a foam of dale-dale - a plant that grows in the tropical climates of Peru.
7: Sacha Soba
Another dish from the chef's more recent menu creations. Handmade soba noodles using sacha papa - a purple root vegetable, the noddles are tossed with clams and super sweet crab - a dish of light, sweet, intense flavouring that's presented perfectly inside the shell of a crab.