Chef duo Jordan Sclare and Michael Paul, aka ‘the Nikkei Boys’, are having the time of their lives at the very forefront of culinary experimentation with London restaurant Chotto Matte. Produce Business UK popped in for visit ahead of the duo’s chef demonstration at the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 (LPS15) for a taste of things to come
Meeting the Nikkei Boys (so-called for the traditional Peruvian/Japanese style they serve) is a little like catching up with a couple of old friends, and, if you’re into cooking and lucky enough to be part of their gang, you’ll experience their ultimate playground – a three-floor kitchen at Chotto Matte that serves up to a thousand diners a day in a Soho restaurant complete with a raw food bar, a sushi bar, a multi-level open barbecue oven and a development area.
These boys are in heaven and their enthusiasm for Nikkei food is infectious. “Nikkei food is an evolution not a fusion,” explains Jordan Sclare, the restaurant’s executive chef, who along with head chef Michael Paul, giggles through many of their Nikkei Boys’ YouTube videos and regularly welcomes UK TV and music celebrities – like Denise Van Outen, Kate Thornton and Sir Paul McCartney – to tour their kitchen.
“It’s the evolution of Peruvian cuisine by Japanese people, which started in Peru 130 years ago, when Japanese workers settled there,” Sclare continues. “It’s a mix of sushi, sashimi, ceviche, tempura and barbecue, with fresh and fast flavours to get your mouth watering. But it’s not just the food. Chotto Matte encompasses the Nikkei culture, shouting the colours of Peru through the Japanese underground street graffiti on the walls.”
Building Chotto Matte
Forging their path in Nikkei food, Sclare and Paul worked tirelessly alongside the concept’s founder, restaurateur and mentor Kurt Zdesar to develop and redevelop the Chotto Matte menu and venue. In a rare deal, Sclare, Paul and Zdesar spent a month in Peru eating at various markets and restaurants and working with Nikkei chefs to get the feel for Nikkei. Spending six months developing the menu, they invested 18-hour days, week after week, for Zdesar, who they affectionately call the “silent Nikkei boy”.
“It was Kurt who had the vision for Chotto Matte many years ago, but he was waiting for the right site and time in the London restaurant scene,” continues Sclare, who worked with Zdesar at other Japanese restaurants. “We created 15 dishes a week and there were secret tastings each Friday, while the restaurant was being built.”
“We were also getting a feel for what Nikkei cuisine could be in London,” points out Paul. “At that time, we weren’t just delivering Kurt’s vision, but what we wanted to see and eat – we created and continue to create a new vibe in Nikkei cuisine.”
When Michael met Jordan…
This intense recipe development regime could explain the closeness of the two chefs, but their “fateful” path actually started 12 years ago whilst training at Thames Valley University (now the University of West London). The following years saw Paul playing hard to get, while Sclare tried to woo him away from fine dining. But the pair certainly built up some credentials between them in the meantime. Having cut his teeth at The Savoy, Sclare has worked under chefs Gordon Ramsay and Anton Edelmann, won and maintained a Michelin star at Nobu, Park Lane, and won 2AA rosettes at Aqua Kyoto. Paul has worked under Philip Corrick at the Royal Automobile Club, at 1 Lombard Street and with David Cavalier at Charlton House. Together they are a force to reckon with.
Having grown up in the same area, albeit unbeknown to them, the Nikkei Boys had had a “low-key” friendship since meeting and having a lot of fun at university. After some chance meetings on the tube and various near-misses in working together, Paul was working two streets around the block from Sclare in Mayfair, again unbeknown to them. Although Paul had always had a hankering for Asian flavours, he was set on fine dining for the first part of his career, but after meeting for a coffee with Sclare a couple of years ago, he decided the time was right to make a move and rekindle their college culinary bond.
The food and drink at Chotto Matte is as much an experience as the excitable, dark and moody décor. A mix of colourful and textured Peruvian foods like corn, sweet potatoes, coriander and limes and flavoursome Japanese ingredients such as raw fish, miso and soy, Nikkei food is a sensory amalgamation.
The menu consists of signature dishes that are constant year-round, with the additional freedom of seasonal specials. “Our specials are in the hands of our suppliers,” says Paul, who on the day of the interview had received some new-season French strawberries, endives and fennel with which he had just created a dish for that evening’s menu.
“Stock-wise everything is split down the middle in the way of Peruvian and Japanese ingredients, as we have 35 chefs to train and instruct. We have specific suppliers coming in from Japan and Peru – our chosen suppliers have gone from delivering to London once a week to five times a week.
“We buy from New Covent Garden Market and we use 3star Veg, who are working with UK growers to produce more of what we are using. We would love to grow a certain Peruvian chilli in this country because at the moment we have to make a paste from the dried version. We have strict specifications, so we need product to be spot on and really fresh, especially for our Raw Bar. Sashimi, to us, means as fresh as it can be – so raw to the core – which is why LPS15 will be great for us, as its all about fresh vegetables – you can expect some vegetable sashimi too.”
On with the show
Sclare describes the Nikkei Boys’ food as “low carb and high protein”, and so fruit and veg is crucial in that final balancing act. “We have been to a lot of Japanese fusion restaurants and there’s an overuse of fish. You end up leaving hungry and feeling that something is lacking. We have to have a certain amount of fruit and veg to balance the dish and add a further dimension.”
Familiar with cooking to an audience through their Nikkei Boys’ videos, the chefs are doing a cookery demo at design show Grand Designs before their LPS15 debut where they know they'll have a different kind of audience. “We are ourselves on stage,” continues Sclare. “We enjoy ourselves and have fun with the food and the audience. We can be a bit on the shocking side – people should have a look at our YouTube videos.”
With both experience and freedom under their belts, the Nikkei Boys feel they are doing the best chef jobs in the world. “We want customers to feel like they want to lick the bowl,” says Sclare. “People should use their hands and get stuck in, and remember that flavour when they get home. We want them to feel as passionate about the food as we do.”
Try out Chotto Matte
Where: 11-13 Frith Street, London, W1D 4RB.
Try: The deliciously sweet-and-sour Seabass Ceviche (seabass, sweet potato, huge pieces of sweet and textured Peruvian corn, coriander and chives).
Best buy: Bento Lunch Box (from £17.95).
Drink: Cocktails, sake, fruit sake, wine and juices. I was lucky enough to get a preview of a nutty-tasting popcorn cocktail, made by the inspired head barman Fabiano Lathan, so look out for that!
Sit: At the Raw Bar downstairs or on the bar seats upstairs, which are available for walk-ins, otherwise you could be waiting two weeks for a booking!
Open: Monday to Saturday 12pm-1am, and Sunday 1pm-12am
Next project: Kurt Zdesar’s new brunching restaurant with coastal cuisine – Bouillabaisse, Mayfair
As part of the build up to the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 New Covent Garden Market recently welcomed the event’s demonstration chefs and catering students from Westminster Kingsway College for a private tour.
Watch the video interview with the Nikkei Boys from Chotto Matte and register here to see them in action in London, on June 4. All fresh produce buyers get free admission.