You haven’t seen the documentary!
Tomas Matsufuji became a trend on social networks a few days ago due to his appearance on Netflix. The streaming giant chose its small restaurant on Angamos Avenue, Al Toke Pez, as the flagship restaurant for national street food. Of the dozens of chefs ‘al paso in Lima, they chose him, and his trio of ceviche, pork cracklings and rice with seafood, as representatives of the Peruvian flavor and included it in the Street Food Latin America docuserie. Thousands of users from all over the world have seen it. Tomas has received a flood of friendship invitations to Facebook and messages from foreigners and nationals who promise to go try their dishes as soon as they are vaccinated and the pandemic ends. But the 39-year-old cook swears he hasn’t seen the movie yet because he doesn’t have a TV or Netflix account. “Why do I want to see my face again! I don’t want to see the ridicule I made worldwide “, is sincere on the other end of the phone line with an antihero pose.
Your Whastapp avatar can testify to your modest self-perception: He is seen wrapping a piece of fish with a newspaper where a photo of him appears. For Tomas, fame is totally disposable.
Just last Thursday, Al Toke Pez reopened, unlike several restaurants in Lima that started with their deliveries as soon as the government ordered it. The well-known ‘Toshi’ says that he postponed the opening because he had neither the logistics nor the budget: “Many people launched very early and had to buy thermometers at 800 soles.” To earn income during the quarantine months and pay the payroll of his four workers, he sold vacuum-packed ceviche ingredient packs: fresh fish, lemon, salt and chili, for the seasoned who could not live without the flag dish during confinement.
Respecting social distancing in your small place is difficult. Before the pandemic, in the restaurant, people ate elbow to elbow and sticks on a bar. Today, these conditions would be pasture for the spread of coronavirus. So the chef has decided to serve the public behind closed doors. Only the takeaway menu is served, nobody sits down to eat, contact is minimal. In a way, the pandemic has brought Al Toke Pez back to its origins, which according to ‘Toshi’ was conceived as a ‘takeaway’ place, in the style of the English take-away that inspired his business.
How can you taste the salt of tiger milk with the mask on? It is something we will never know. What is true is that her appearance on Netflix has definitely refreshed her fame. It is not a joke. This weekend a long line of masked men was seen outside their premises, waiting for the much-touted marine combo.
The Ph.D. from Angamos
Those who saw the documentary have been able to learn more about ‘Toshi’, diminutive of Toshitake (his name in Japanese), and laugh – or bewildered – about that mania that he has to repeat that he is a loser (a loser). “What a way to market the business,” I say. “The thing is to give pain,” he jokes. “The truth is that I have not beaten anyone. I don’t make the best ceviche. I am someone who was lucky to appear in a documentary ”, he says very seriously.
Tomas, who always has a catchy phrase on the tip of his tongue, adopts a serious tone when he talks about gastronomy. He gets serious when he explains the contributions that Nikkei cuisine, the quarry where he learned various culinary techniques, has given to Peruvian dishes. He is analytical when he comments on how chemistry is applied to, for example, making a cabbage pickle: “You rub a moderate amount of salt on the leaves. After a few hours, enough water will start to be thrown away due to the action of salt on the cells of the plant, causing an osmosis effect, ”he wrote in an entry in eltrinche.com, the web portal with which he collaborates. Remember that you have a Ph.D. in supramolecular chemistry from the University of Surrey, England, where he went to study with a scholarship when he finished his degree in agricultural engineering.
He did not study to be a chef, he learned everything from his father, the late Dario Matsufuji, owner of La cocina de Dario, who became very famous for his ease of inventing dishes with the ingredients at hand. Legend has it that the tacu yaki, his version of the Peruvian tacu tacu, to which he added seafood in batayaki sauce, invented it to please a hungry diner and became the highlight of his restaurant. “His clients adored him, he was like a rock star, I grew up seeing that, it was a privilege to be his son”, says Tomas, who acknowledges that his father’s good reputation contributed to the success of his small restaurant. “In many of the first interviews they called me ‘Tomas, the son of …’, but in recent years it has been the affection of the people that has built my business.”
Toshi declares himself an instinctive cook. He conceived Al Toke Pez as a place where he would eat rich and cheap. He made no effort to build a beautiful and elegant venue. He opted for a ‘gap’ so as not to intimidate the public: “The uglier, the more natural. People have the idea of beauty deep in their heads. They are looking for brand clothes, the latest cell phone, the car of the year. They are banalities for me ”. He also forgot about white meat fish –which are the most expensive and the best to make a ceviche de ley according to connoisseurs– and took “humble” fish such as lisa, parakeet and silverside to his bar. To the squid, the input of the ceviches of wheelbarrow, also revalued it and its public dissolves eating their giant squid greaves. His formula for running his restaurant has not failed him.
Tomas never imagined that one day Netflix executives would come from California to record a documentary about his food. “Virgilio told me that his life turned 180 degrees”, He comments referring to his colleague Virgilio Martinez, owner of Central, the Lima restaurant ranked as the best in South America, which became well-known when he participated in Chef ‘s Table, a Netflix series released in 2017. “But he does know then, he has all the potential. In my case things won’t change much “.
What has changed at Al Toke Pez is the menu price. “People are not going to think that it is because I went on Netflix,” says Tomas, who has made several additional expenses to keep his place completely aseptic: buying masks, caps, rapid tests and bottles of alcohol for his workers, and extra iodine to sterilize fish and shellfish. “I do not want everyone to come at once,” he warns, “because people are going to crowd and this will be worse than Metropolitanos whereabouts.” But fame is like this, the public queues expectantly to take home the ceviche made by that chef from the eight of Angamos that came out on Netflix, who loves to say that he is a loser.