Not even the fact that his restaurant Maido in Lima has been elected for two consecutive years the best restaurant in Latin America according to the 50 Best Restaurants list has made the Peruvian chef Mitsuharu Tsumura settle. With restaurants in countries like Chile and Macau, the chef who revolutionized Nikkei cuisine and helped put Peru in the spotlight of gastronomy is ready to take over the food world in 2019.
In addition to opening a new branch of his stellar Karai restaurant in Bogotá, Colombia – which he told exclusively to Fine Dining Lovers –, Tsumura hopes to further expand his new concept of casual cuisine, which he called Sushi Pop and which already has 2 venues in the Peruvian capital and 3 more ones to open in 2019. “We plan to open three more branches only next year” he says, claiming that fast casual might be the future of gastronomy.
Tsumura also talks about how he manages his time between so many projects, how he sees the rising future of Latin America’s gastronomy and why he believes that Maido has become a reference all over the world.
Why do you think Maido has become a reference in Latin American gastronomy?
We focus in a cuisine that is new even for Peru – I mean, Nikkei cuisine is sort of a new thing in restaurants and in the local gastronomy scene, since it was mainly cooked in the houses of Japanese immigrants, it has always been a hearty cuisine. We have made it possible for Nikkei cuisine to become better known in the world by showing what it really was: not a Japanese cuisine, but a typical Peruvian cuisine that had its influences in Japanese gastronomy, mainly in techniques, but with local ingredients. Maido is my version of Nikkei cuisine, with a deep search for local produce from distinct regions of Peru – from the Amazon to the south. We make creative cuisine based on local ingredients, with a good balance between Japanese and Peruvian influences, that I usually say go so well together because they are completely different.
You also inaugurated two new concepts of Nikkei cuisine outside Peru, one in Chile (Karai) and one in Macau (Ají). How was the process of developing these two restaurants?
I always thought that Maido was not replicable because it is a restaurant of Peruvian products that we only have in Peru. Taking Maido abroad meant giving up these products, so I felt I had to do different things. The concept of these restaurants follows the same line we have in Maido, in fact: we use local products of each country, mixing what we know of Peruvian cuisine and what we have learned from Japanese cuisine. In Santiago, Chile, for example, we have access to great local fish, seafood, lamb... They are products that we do not have in Peru, and which are wonderful. We could not ignore them. In China, we use many ingredients from Japan, for example, because of the proximity, so we can count on great fish and seafood as well. For me, it only makes sense to do your cuisine based on where you are located and with the products from those regions. But thanks to the spread of Peruvian cuisine, I can already find our ajís (Peruvian chili) and other ingredients that are decisive for our recipes.
This also allowed you to exercise your creativity as a chef and venture into new concepts, right?
In every place, we have to do something unique. Today, more than ever, people seek the uniqueness – years ago, they sought what they already knew. That changed. Each restaurant needs to have its personality, unless it is a chain, a kitchen that is even more replicable, exporting products. So for me, it makes sense that each one of my restaurants has a different name, its own identity. Karai, by the way, is a brand we created for Latin America, which we hope to take to other countries of the continent because it has this Latin root. The next city we will open Karai will be Bogotá in 2019. And we hope we can keep expanding.
You have also created a more informal restaurant, Sushi Pop, which is taking over Lima. Why did you decide to bet on a more casual concept?
It is a big movement of chefs to do something more casual, more accessible. In Maido, for example, it is difficult for many people to know my work, not just because of price or reservation system, but also because of the type of cuisine we serve, more authorial. At Sushi Pop I can serve sandwiches, cheeseburgers, sushi rolls, chicken wings and many other things I have more freedom to do – but all in my style, of course, with a little Nikkei accent, sauces with ponzu, something more Japanese-Peruvian. We try to serve there what I would like to eat every day, and we also have delivery. The future will be more casual.
And how do you handle so many projects today? Do you have a schedule of visits to other countries?
Creating a very good team was fundamental for us to be able to expand, mainly abroad. For example, I do not have a specific schedule for Chile, which is a neighboring country, very close to Peru. But to Macau, I plan to go at least three times a year. There's a chef who worked with me for six years in charge of Ají, whom I really trust. Our project there has been a great success, luckily.
And why do you think people are more curious and interested in Latin American food?
The work we have done here in Latin America has attracted the attention of some of the best cooks in the world, such as Ferran Adrià, Alain Ducasse, Michel Bras... This has brought more prominence to our region worldwide, of course. Then, many journalists and people interested in food began to explore the region. Finally, disclosure in the media was crucial to showcase us as a movement, even a continent to be rediscovered.