Hiro Nishida is originally from Tokyo and is the president of Food Scope, the Japan-based company behind two of New York's hippest Japanese restaurants, Megu (downtown) and the recently opened Megu Midtown.
In the midst of the rapid expansion of the Megu concept – to Hong Kong and London – we sat down with this sushi master to talk about new trends in food, the introduction of sushi to the Chinese market and the future of Japan’s most famous export.
Q. How and when did you become a member of ASW?
Hiro Nishida : I’ve been a member since May 2007, and I was invited by a friend.
Q. How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
HN: I use ASW for market research a lot. I like to see where people go and what they are doing around the world.
Q. Megu (downtown) has been open for three years now. Tell us a bit about how the concept came together and landed in Tribeca in 2004.
HN: I was hired in Japan by Food Scope to look into the international expansion of the company. It was after watching the tragedy of September 11 in 2001 that I proposed to the [Food Scope] chairman the idea of opening a true Japanese restaurant in New York. Two months later I was scouting for locations.
Q. What does ‘Megu’ mean?
HN: It means blessing [in Japanese].
Q. Food Scope has several restaurants in Tokyo. Is Megu a franchise of one of these?
HN: No, Megu is its own concept. It was created to present refined Western palates with a real Japanese experience.
Q. Ever since the sushi ‘boom’ in the late 90s, every major city has found itself almost overpopulated with Japanese restaurants. It’s hard to stand out. What makes Megu different?
Design for Megu London's main dining room.
HN: Megu provides a real Japanese experience, complete with exquisite interiors and excellent service. Most ‘Japanese’ restaurants are fusions with other types of cuisines and only 10 percent of the places are actually Japanese-owned; most of these only cater to Japanese expatriates and their communities. Megu serves authentic, avant-garde Japanese food in a Western fine-dining setting.
Q. Let us talk produce. In the past years there have been a lot of changes in the market. There was a time when Japan used to supply almost 80 percent of the world's sushi fish. However, now suppliers everywhere seem to be turning to other sources around the world for fresh produce. What do you think of this transition and how does it affect the quality of the fish, specifically at Megu?
HN: Given the size of the market and the high-demand for fish these days, it’s become increasingly difficult to find quality produce where you would had found it five years ago. Nowadays, some of the best fish comes from regions like Spain and the Mediterranean. We try to keep our supply up to date in trends and use other methods to guarantee the best quality of fish.
Q. Methods such as?
HN: Farming. Every year the natural fish resources seem to run lower and the quality seems poorer. Pollution, climate change and the over-demand on the market have resulted in good fish becoming more rare and more expensive. Therefore, fish suppliers are now turning into farming, which is one of the best ways to get fresh, quality fish.
For instance, at Megu, we have signed a contract with a tuna farm in Okinawa, which is one of the best in the world.
Q. What makes this farm good?
HN: The way they raise tuna. This is the first farm to breed and raise tuna on site. This way, we know when, how and where the fish are born, as well as knowing what they eat and being able to monitor all their activity and growth.
They also use one of the best killing methods – electroshock. This method is fast and relatively painless, in comparison to the chemical method, which is traditionally used.
The fish also come with a certificate, confirming the natural development of the tuna.
Q. I’m assuming this is much more expensive than regular tuna.
HN: Yes, but it’s worth it. The fish is super natural [Ed.: not super-natural] and the taste is much better.
Q. Megu is opening in Hong Kong, a location clearly representative of one of the new emerging sushi markets – China. What do you think about the development of these new markets and their impact on the future of sushi in the world?
HN: The market will suffer a huge change in the next five years. Now that large populations like the Chinese are starting to become part of the sushi culture, the market will have to shift dramatically to accommodate the needs of the new consumer. Farming seems to be picking up as one of the major resources, which should keep the supply of fish constant. However, the prices will continue to escalate.
Design for Megu Hong Kong's sushi bar
Q. What about the new restaurant’s menu? As an experience, I know the Chinese are culturally reluctant to try new types of food. How do you expect to tap into this market?
HN: In fact, 20 percent of the menu of Megu Hong Kong will be produced utilizing local produce. The food will still be strictly Japanese, however we’re planning on including local favourites like shark fin into the mix.
The other 80 percent gets created in Megu Midtown, then passed down to Megu (downtown), where it’s tested, and finally sent to the rest of the world. Hong Kong will be no exception.
Q. What about London? How did this city come into the picture?
HN: London is the next step in the geo-financial path Megu is following. After opening in New York, I thought it’d be only natural to follow up with restaurants in Hong Kong and London, the other two financial capitals of the world.
Q. So, you’re after the finance crowd?
HN: Yes. People in finance seem to conform the majority of our clientele. These are well-travelled individuals whose palates are more evolved and are able to appreciate the different cuisines around the world. Megu seems to be a good match for this crowd.
Q. What about the sushi-devouring socialite clan?
HN: Covered – we’re actively seeking out locations for restaurants in Miami and Dubai.
Megu Hong Kong will open on October 1st and is located in Kowloon inside Element, a new entertainment centre.
Megu London is scheduled to open on Berkeley Square in Mayfair, in June 2008.
For more information please go to megunyc.com
— Alonso Dominguez