The great rewards of patience and smiles
Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, who goes by Micha, can be called the father of Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Japanese technique with Peruvian ingredients. While it has existed for over a century, he made it a cuisine type. His restaurant Maido, in Lima, is currently #10 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and #1 on 2019 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Enthusiastic and passionate about his work, his restaurant, his friends and Peru, he spoke with Ann Hill, Director of Dining at Aspire Lifestyles to discuss what drives him to keep improving and expanding creatively.
Mitsuharu（Micha）Tsumura： What’s interesting about Peruvian cuisine is the ingredients. We have chefs in Peru who discover new things each month that we use in our restaurants. From there it develops a need in the market for products that didn’t have value before. Nowadays you come to Lima and these products are in the supermarkets and eventually end up being exported. That’s our main goal – to show the world our products. My dream is to have Peruvian ingredients, such as chili peppers, used throughout the world, not just for Peruvian cuisine but that can be adapted to use in local cuisine, which is starting to happen. In the past when we traveled we had to take everything from Peru. Now there are purveyors around the world who can get you the products, which has really happened in just the past five years.
As for my cuisine, Nikkei is cuisine of the world, it’s not just a fusion of countries and not something that happened all of a sudden. Nikkei has been around for more than 100 years as the food that Japanese grandmothers used to cook, developed out of necessity. My role is to show the world that Nikkei cuisine was born and has the opportunity to remain and expand. The Peruvian restaurants that open around the world have elements of Nikkei cuisine and recipes on their menus such as ceviche and anticuchos skewers, which are the most popular that you see. One of the strongest influences on Peruvian cuisine is the Asian one – Chinese and Japanese, Right now we’re opening in Macau and will opening in Santiago. Right now we’re taking it easy but one but one day I would like to open a restaurant In the USA.
AL: One evening you get to take 5 chefs (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them (aside from your own restaurant)? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?
MT: That’s a very interesting question. We are very good friends with other Peruvian chefs so that’s a very hard question. Definitely I would go with Gaston (Acurio). I would really like to go with Fernan Adria and Albert, his brother. And Joan. But I’d also like to go with his brothers.
AL: Ok. We can say that the Brothers – The Adria Brothers and the Roca Brothers will count as one each.
MT: Also Virgilio (Martinez). There has been a big connection between the Roca Brothers who have been one of the biggest ambassadors of Peruvian cuisine in the world. For sure. The Roca Brothers and the Adria Brothers have really been the ones who spread the word in Europe when they came to Peru, that they fell in love with Peruvian cuisine and the country. We became really good friends. There’s a very nice connection. I would like to go with… hmmmm. Mauro (Colagreco) – he’s in France but from South America. Also Narasawa in Tokyo. I wouldn’t go to a restaurant. I would go to the beach and have a huge barbeque there. That would be perfect.
AL: Which restaurant, hotel or person or place most inspired your sense of hospitality?
AL: What has been one of your greatest lessons so far in your culinary career and how has it shaped you into the chef that you are today and how do you express that to your kitchen team?
A good example is rice. At the beginning I was making rice. People ask me the recipe for making sushi rice. There is no recipe because it depends on the water that you’re using, the rice, the kind of vinegar, the sugar, the altitude you’re in. I actually gave a speech recently about technology, hybrid food and creativity – what technology can do and what it cannot do. Some of the things it couldn’t do was make rice perfectly because there are some things that need sensitivity. The only way to understand what I’m talking about is when you make rice everyday, everyday, everyday. In the restaurant, you make one thing every day of your life, nobody is going to be able to make it better than you because you’re focused on that one thing, making it as good or better everyday. But nothing is perfect. Everything can improve. Creativity wouldn’t be as powerful as it is today if people didn’t strive to make things better. So not being satisfied by a good result is part of making your dreams come true. I’m trying to make it different and better all the time. Even how talented you are, how many things you know, smart you are, you make mistakes.
MT: I did it already! Juan Riviera. He’s an icon in Peru. One of the greatest singers in the world for me. I grew up with his music. The way he sings; his messages. The day he was in Peru giving a concert, he came to my restaurant, but I was in New York. When they told me Riviera was there, I said “WHAT? He’s in Lima and I’m in New York? No way!” So he came and had the tasting menu. That night about midnight I received a call from my chef who said that Riviera had a great time at the restaurant and mentioned that they were leaving the next morning to go do another concert and would like to have food catered for the plane. I said ‘of course, what time do they leave?’ My manager told me they needed to pick up food by 10am. I talked to my chefs and told them to make the same menu that the group had for dinner to have for lunch on the plane. Years went by and all of a sudden one of my managers said ‘Riviera is in town he wants to come and to meet you’. And I wanted to meet him – he’s the most famous person in the country! He came and I did a dinner for him.
AL: Do your friends and family cook for you?
MT: Yes but not very often. My mother does a lot. My friends do. Many of my friends love to eat and love to entertain but they call and ask ‘how do you do this and how do you do that?’ Many people in Peru love to cook and they’re always trying to experiment. Friends I’ve known for 25 years, we went to school together so it’s a different connection. I always say the best thing is to cook for others, to make people happy. There’s nothing better than someone cooking for you.
AL: How has W50B changed life for self and team?