When you decide to start up a sushi catering business and open a Japanese tapas restaurant, success isn’t something that comes overnight.
However, Makiko "Maki" Matthews is fast becoming the next big thing in Japanese cuisine in London with her passion for making fresh top quality sushi.
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Hellomagazine.com catches up with the Japanese entrepreneur and mother for a chat about her rising career, teaching kids the benefits of healthy eating and making sushi for Buckingham Palace.
Sushi has boomed in recent years in the UK. Why do you think it has become so popular?
"People are much more food-conscious than they used to be and are paying more attention to what they eat. Sushi is low in fat, high in protein and great for snacks and meals, which I think has helped it become a popular healthy equivalent to burgers or pizza.
"When sushi was first served in the UK I think a lot of people just thought of it as “raw fish” and were scared off, but more recently I think they have realised that sushi and sashimi offer all sorts of options for different tastes."
It’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you do. How did you first start your career in sushi?
"I started out working for the fresh fish counter in Selfridges’ food court. It was a tough environment to begin with; starting work at 5am every day and working in an all-male environment took its toll at times but I persevered because it was great training for learning about all types of fish and how to prepare them properly.
"After two years I got the chance to take over the Selfridges sushi counter and three years later I embarked on opening Suzu in 2009 and venturing into the world of restaurateurs and catering. More recently I have started running weekly sushi-making classes for adults and kids, for which I already have over 140 students."
You have catered for a lot of big events and important clients already. What have been your highlights so far?
"Having done over 100 parties and events there have been a lot of highlights. Making sushi for Buckingham Palace was really great - I have been asked to make sushi for the Palace Garden Tea Parties on a number of occasions and it’s amazing to think that royalty have eaten my food (and liked it enough to ask for me again).
"Some other fun events have been a Lexus car launch (where the queue for sushi was longer than the queue to see the new car), a vegan party (where we served solely vegan sushi), and serving a muslim couple a private dinner in their luxury hotel suite. This private dinner was great for me as it was only possible because I am a female sushi chef, a male chef would have been inappropriate due to the couple’s religion.
"One other highlight would be the sushi-making classes that I am currently doing as local after-school clubs in Hammersmith where I get to teach kids about healthy eating through sushi. They love trying to make the sushi themselves and I get to show them that preparing fresh, healthy food can be really fun - although that often involves arriving home with more than a few grains of rice in my hair."
What do you think has been key to your success?
"I’d have to say the quality of my food along with my determination. I prepare everything fresh from scratch, so I don’t use any pre-packaged food, and I make sure that I use only the freshest fish for all my dishes.
"By preparing everything myself, I can tailor each dish to the occasion/client and take into account any special requirements without worrying about hidden ingredients or additives.
"Also, I’m open to any catering challenge however big or small, weird or wonderful, and I really enjoy what I do so I think that shows in my work. Word of mouth has been fantastic for helping spread my name and reputation; with personal recommendations being so important in the catering world I believe that great food should speak for itself."
As well as your successful businesses you have three children. How have you found being a working professional mum?
"My children have been a major part of my inspiration for developing my sushi business. Making sure they eat healthily is an important part of parenting and sharing that philosophy is crucial to my work. My son Leon is autistic and has food intolerances so I am continually reading up on nutrition and about the best foods to use.
"This has also helped me in catering for people with special dietary requirements as I’m used to thinking about ingredients and possible alternatives. Fortunately, being my own boss also allows me the flexibility to spend time with my children and I try to make the most of that and be there for them as much as possible."
Visit Makiko Matthew’s Japanese Tapas restaurant Suzu in London (http://www.suzuonline.co.uk), join her sushi-making classes (http://www.meetup.com/Japanese-cooking-class/) or have her serve sushi at your next event or dinner party: firstname.lastname@example.org.