Defining the “Human Flavour”

Chef Hiroshi Endo shows off the Spicy Maguro Yukke from Miku's summer menu. Photo: Dan Poh photography

The following article was written by guest contributor Denyse Johnson.

He may not speak much English, but when it comes to the language of culture, community and food, Seigo Nakamura, owner of Vancouver’s Miku sushi restaurant, needs no translation.

As a teenager, the Japan native was a promising baseball athlete—an honour comparable to being an up-and-coming hockey player in Canada. But, in his early twenties, his fate changed when his father had a stroke, and he took over the family’s small, sushi restaurant in southern Japan.

“At the age of 22, I was put into an owner’s role with absolutely no experience or guidance. I had no one to tell me when I was doing something right, or someone to point out what I was doing wrong,” said the father of four children.
During his early years in business, Nakamura decided he needed a vision to keep him on track, so he adopted “Ningenmi” as his philosophy. Translated into English as “the human flavour,” the term has guided how he runs his business, and his life.

“I believe in the sincerity of human interactions and the power of caring for one another, and respect for humanity. I want to build a company based on food, but just as importantly, a people brand.”

For the past two years, Nakamura has been growing his brand and philosophy internationally, expanding first to Vancouver in 2008, and later this year to L.A and Munich. He recently celebrated his success in Vancouver with staff and customers, hosting a cocktail-style patio party, where food, drink and people flowed.

Seigo Nakamura (left) celebrates the opening of Miku's patio for the season with a customer-appreciation party. Photo: Dan Poh Photography

Among the dishes served was Miku’s signature “Aburi”—sear-flamed sushi. Nakamura has evolved the technique, which brings out the natural flavours of the fish, by creating specialty sauces, using non-traditional Japanese ingredients. It’s an art he and his staff take seriously.

“The evolutionizing of sushi is fascinating to me. Sushi is essentially the greatest export of Japan, so it’s very important to keep the integrity in each piece. Though it looks simple, each piece is very complex.”

Despite a busy travel schedule, which divides his time between his head office in Japan, L.A. and Europe, Nakamura visits Vancouver every two to three months and enjoys his favourite dishes of Aburi Sushi, Calamari, and the Soba Pepperoncino. The visits also help remind him about his vision.

“I feel Ningenmi everytime I visit Miku. When I see people enjoying work and guests enjoying their experience, it’s ningenmi coming to life. The reason why I love the restaurant is because I see it more than just the business of food exchange – the restaurant is an environment where people can put aside worries, and just simply be present in the moment—to taste the moment, to appreciate good company.”

Seigo Nakamura at his Vancouver-based Miku restaurant. Photo: Rick Collins Photography

“I can’t say when exactly it [sushi] became a passion, because I don’t think there ever is a concrete starting point to a ‘passion.’ It’s simply something you find in life that you can’t imagine living without. I can’t imagine a life without sushi.”

Miku restaurant is located at 1055 West Hastings.

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