Uncompromising focus on ingredients and the ability to anticipate diners’ desires has given Mizumi chef Hideki Fujikawa a devoted following of sushi enthusiasts at Wynn Macau.
It is 3 pm on a misty Monday, and sushi chef Hideki Fujikawa is in his kitchen in Wynn Macau’s restaurant Mizumi, examining the night’s ingredients: tuna, salmon, and abalone flown in that day from the coastal waters of Ise, on the Japanese island of Honshu; the cold waters off Sapporo, Hokkaido; and Tsukiji, on the outskirts of Tokyo. Showing up hours before service to scrutinize the night’s fish isn’t unusual for Fujikawa, whose fierce attention to freshness has undoubtedly contributed to the restaurant’s elevation from one to two Michelin stars—the second awarded in November. This afternoon, he is sampling seasonal madai (red snapper) sushi. In a few short hours, Mizumi will be swarming with its devotees. Of course, the restaurant owes its success to more than fresh fare.
It could be easy for diners to get lost in Mizumi’s sensational visuals: A series of brick walls, covered in gold leaf, and waves of splashy red décor virtually pull them in. The witty yellow steel Dogami (a monumental origami dog by artist Gerardo Hacer); custom artwork of stylized Japanese images by Sush Machida; and even carpets inspired by antique Japanese obi complete a theatrical scene. But then, of course, there is the food.
Chef Fujikawa’s passion for the precise art of sushi might have been born, he explains, when his aunt gave him his very first delicate sushi box at the tender age of 6. His culinarily gifted parents nurtured his natural affinity and he labored in kitchens throughout his teenage years, eventually landing a position with sushi master Tsutomu Shimamiya in 2002. Founder of the Michelin two-star restaurant Sushi Zen, which he opened in Hokkaido in 1971, and a cultural ambassador to US presidents Clinton and Obama, Shimamiya is the most revered practitioner of Japan’s traditional art of preparing edomae-style sushi. Fujikawa had the rare opportunity to apprentice with him at Sushi Zen in Sapporo and Tokyo for 16 years.
Japanese A5 Wagyu.
Fujikawa chuckles as he explains how very far from glamorous work a sushi chef apprenticeship is. He spent his first year washing dishes and learning about rice, which to many is an even more vital element in sushi than fish, since the temperature, flavor, and packing of the rice are all crucial to the sushi’s quality.
Sushi rice is best served at body temperature, Fujikawa explains; it should be neither room temperature nor chilled. Once made, the rice cools quickly, so even such under-appreciated subtleties as the distance between the sushi chef and his guests make a difference. In seconds, Fujikawa needs to adjust the pressure and size of the rice to deliver it to his guests at its freshest and most pristine. Fujikawa might even gauge the size of the bite he’s about to deliver based on the individual guest. “It’s almost a psychological game,” he says. “Men tend to eat more and women often have smaller mouths. But circumstances may change.”
The sake collection.
“Nigiri” literally means “to grab” in Japanese and refers to the strip of fish resting on a bed of rice. Fujikawa encourages eating it with the hands, inverting the fish to lightly dip it into soy before sliding it into your mouth.Just as important, Shimamiya and Fujikawa insist on a specific variety of rice to complete the picture: Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture, a shiny, sweet, and sticky rice with a large grain. Exhaustive testing by the duo revealed that this one variety paired perfectly with the vinegar made by Shimamiya at Sushi Zen. Naturally, with all this attention to detail, Fujikawa wouldn’t consider serving dollops of bright green, commercially prepared wasabi paste. Rather, he procures mountain wasabi, a white root grown above his hometown in Hokkaido—both a nod to his roots and an example of the unyielding perfectionism of a sushi chef who considers every element.
And though both chefs are well-known for their wit (Shimamiya now fills a consulting role at Mizumi at Wynn Macau), Fujikawa is quick to explain that joking is off-limits in the kitchen. “I never joke with Shimamiya,” he says. “He’s my master and I pay him my utmost respect.” Fujikawa lives by the advice that Shimamiya passed along when his protégé moved over to launch the restaurant in Wynn Macau in 2014: “Take it easy and slow.” That is why, for the patrons of Mizumi in Wynn Macau, having a bite of sushi is close to a religious experience. Each movement in Fujikawa’s beautifully orchestrated experience is thoughtfully considered, each piece of fish is scrutinized, and every ingredient—literally down to the last precious grain of rice—is revered.