As the third generation of Japanese descendants in Peru, Hajime Kasuga has a strong passion for Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavours. In 2005, he opened his first restaurant Hanzo, and now he’s here in Indonesia to further introduce
: How did you first learn to cook? Hajime: In northern Peru, there was a new school from Switzerland where we could learn and work in a hotel. I thought this was interesting and I travelled there to study – it was very tough. It was a hotel university and we had to work to look after all the students. We had to cook for all of us, we did the housekeeping for all of us, but the toughest work was in the kitchen. I loved it. If you were in housekeeping or reception, you received feedback some time later, but in the kitchen, you receive immediate feedback, especially if the food is not good. Every week, it was the same food, but I liked it when people commented on my cooking.
: Where did your culinary journey take you?
H: I worked my very first job in a traditional Peruvian restaurant in Lima. I lived in Japan for a while when I was still single in 1995 so I could study. It was hard, I felt like I was very junior, you know? The work ethic there is very strong, it feels like they only think about work.
: Do you enjoy Jakarta so far?
H: I enjoy it very much. The people are kind. My wife and child are with me, so it’s important to me that we all feel comfortable and welcome. We are all happy here.
: How would you explain about Nikkei cuisine to those who are not familiar with it?
H: Nikkei is a combination of Japanese and Peruvian, but Peruvian food is different from Nikkei. Peruvian food is very spicy and has a lot of chillies and flavours. While
in Nikkei cuisine, we look for balance in the ingredients and specifically for umami. I learned in Japan from the renowned Yoshihiro Murata and he taught me that the first taste should be gentle flavours, while the second flavour should always be umami. I saw how much people enjoyed this and have followed this in my own cooking.
: How do you think the discerning diners in Indonesia will respond to the arrival of Nikkei cuisine in the country?
H: Actually Indonesia has many similarities with Peru, in terms of the climate, the ingredients produced and the favoured flavours. We can find fish of very good quality here, which is important to make ceviche. We always use fresh fish, not frozen. Some varieties, like the barramundi I source from Lombok, are really good quality. I marinade it and make ceviche from it. I think the combination of fresh spicy, sweet and sour flavours in Nikkei food will easily make it a favourite for Indonesian palates.
: What’s your secret in creating delectable dishes?
H: The ingredients are great, but I also have a great team that has been working with me since 2005 in my restaurant. They’re the creative guys, not me. We work together to decide what’s good or not.
: What should the guests try when they visit Henshin?
H: Everything! [laughs] From the ceviche section, we have the Nikkei Ceviche as the signature dish. Meanwhile, from the sushi selection, I think the Nikkei Bomb will be interesting. It’s a special sushi with unagi, foie gras and truffle in one roll. We also have a really delicious duck carpaccio.