Chef Makoto Okuwa opened his homonymous restaurant in Polanco in the summer of 2017 to add to his 20-year trajectory of success around the world. With a career in the United States, a restaurant in Panama, Mexico and soon Brazil, Chef Makoto sat with us to chat about his projects, expectations and goals for the future.
How would you define Makoto?
This is a place where we provide a complete dining experience. We’re very proud of the quality of our food, and in addition to that, we provide excellent service.
How does traditional Japanese cuisine adapt to the modern techniques?
The technique in which I use or take care of the product is Japanese, but to prepare something like a sauce, I incorporate a technique that isn’t necessarily from Japanese cuisine. I’ve changed the way in which I understand flavor combinations elsewhere, because Japanese flavor is very simple since it only uses a handful of ingredients. Japanese food doesn’t have enough flavor to create the same impact for someone who enjoys a hamburger or tacos full of flavor from the first bite, so I, as a chef, incorporate technique from other cuisines into Japanese cuisine.
What influenced your decision of opening Makoto in Mexico City, and specifically in Polanco?
I have a local partner, who gave me this advice. They believe in this place and they believe in my concept. For me Mexico has a great diversity and I have many friends from Mexico. I love Mexican cuisine. In the US, they’re familiarized with the commercial burrito or taco, but when I came here it was totally different. There’s so much complexity to the flavor.
Creating your own sake label was a natural progression to introduce Japanese culture to the world. Has it been difficult to persuade customers in Mexico to embrace sake and forget the misconceptions around it?
Misconceptions come down to shipping costs. No one wants to buy a $100 US bottle of sake, so you have to bring the cheapest sake possible. Cheaper sake isn’t meant to be served cold; that’s why hot sake has become more popular—cold sake is of a higher quality rice grain. It’s purer and adds more koji to make it fruitier, and Makoto sake is like that. To this day, we’re working to bring the cost down. The whole point of making my sake was to introduce it to the people who have never drunk sake before.
Tell us about one of the most rewarding moments of your career.
As a chef, when I was still living in NY, around 10 years ago, being successful as a restaurant owner and partner, looking at the success of my restaurant in Miami, it was very rewarding for me. Opening a restaurant is an amazing thing, but it’s not as good a reward as having a successful restaurant. If you have the money you can open a restaurant, but making it successful is the reward, and I try to accomplish that everywhere I go.
What do you look for in a restaurant as a customer?
Somewhere comfortable, nothing fancy, somewhere you can go every day.
What are your plans for the future?
A project that I have is Makoto in Sao Paulo. I have a partner who reached out to me with a vision, seeking potential. I also want to continue creating better food and providing excellent service here in Polanco. So when you come to or if you live in Mexico City please come join us.
Campos Elíseos 295
Polanco, Polanco IV Sección
11550 Ciudad de México
Tel: 55 5281 5686
Text: Amura ± Foto: Axel Carranza