k Nagai k
You have had the most interesting life. Your parents are both very spiritual, you have had many different careers, speak 7 languages and travel is obviously something that runs through all your veins. Please can you talk us through your childhood…
Here is the short version! I was born in San Francisco, came to Ibiza when I was two, went to India when I was seven, to Hawaii and back to San Francisco when I was ten for a few months and then came back to Ibiza until I was seventeen. At this point, I went to live with my father, finish High School and go to University in San Francisco. I turned twenty in Bolivia, after deciding that I wanted to become a footballer and left school to pursue that dream…
Football played a major part in your life and you controlled the midfield for teams such as FC Thun, FC Luzern, FC Chiasso and Mendrisio plus coaching in Bolivia. Do you miss those days?
Where to begin! Of course they are days I miss, however, as they say in Spain, ‘que me quiten lo bailado’. Life goes on and I can only remember the luck and privilege I have had to live such adventures and meet such wonderful people around the world. I retired at 34 when I was bored of playing for an old-style coach in Locarno and received the offer to begin my pro coaching career in the South Korean K-League. The beginning was fantastic but, to be honest, I really missed playing and was in such great condition that it seemed a waste to be coaching players when I could still be fulfilling my true passion – playing! I played semi-pro for another six months back in Switzerland and then decided to travel around the world, in part to avoid post-career depression, in part to figure out what I wanted to do, where and with who.
You are now responsible for one of the finest restaurants in Ibiza with Nagai. Just like football, running such an establishment needs good teamwork…
Exactly! As with football, you are only really as strong as your weakest link and we have been fortunate enough to create a team where everyone is strong in one or more fields. After all my travels, I found out what to do, where to live and who to do it with…
Eleonora – who knows how to make restaurants work. Nagai is her fourth restaurant.
Reina – who simple really knows how to weave magic in the kitchen
Luigi – who can do just about anything related to construction and maintenance as well as the music.
Nagai of course used to be the Ocho eatery. Did you have to change much?
Actually, we have kept almost everything that Leah and John of Ocho did. They really did a good job with some parts and we have just added a few bits here and there making it perhaps more simple and meshing Ibiza with Japan, Italy and Feng Shui. Kind of like everything else in Nagai – looking for harmony whilst mixing different components. Obviously to have Findac and Kevin Allison leave their mark on our walls has created a mesmerizing effect and we are happy to serve as showcase for their outstanding work.
I have friends in Australia who have heard of your Dragon Roll. Please tell our readers just what makes this so delicious…
Ah! I’m very sorry to have to announce that I only whisper that secret when you have eaten many times at Nagai…
One of our favourite dishes on the menu is the Mediterranean Mackeral. Why don’t other restaurants in Ibiza support this wonderful fish?
I truly don’t know, but, in Japan I ate it almost every day as it is one of the healthiest fish.
The general consensus of opinion in Ibiza is that 2015 is a real year of difference for the island. Yes clubs and music will always be important for Ibiza, but the tide now has turned towards healthy eating, exercise, well being and general goodness that will be a focal point to attract people here…and also for the residents to finally start getting the recognition they deserve?
Ibiza has always had many sides to it, apart from being so beautiful, it is super convenient. I think the past years of crisis have made people come back with improved quality awareness, the visitors are more informed and many people have decided to live a better, more discerning life. Sometimes that means choosing the right place to shop or eat, sometimes it means, moving permanently and getting creative about earning a livelihood. Personally, I don’t really think this year marks a real difference, just a ripening of what has been planted in the last years.
You have a night off. What restaurant do you go to and why?
A night off???? No comprendo! Just kidding…we make sure to take Sunday off, even during the Summer. We like to rotate and try different restaurants…La Luna Nell’Orto, Macao, Calma, Trattoria del Mar, Es Cafe Casa Pepe are some of the ones we enjoy. Of course, as we work during the night we love to have lunch on the beach when possible. In general, we look for tasty and healthy food with friendly staff.
What are the new dishes on the menu for summer 2015?
As you mentioned above, the marinated mackerel, pickled vegetables (simple and delicious), marinated lamb chops and a few more surprises to come…
Your sushi classes you ran last year were a soaraway success. Will you be repeating events like this later this year?
Of course! We love to share and whenever a small group is interested, we offer classes. We have done some at villas too. Spring and Fall are easier for us as well as December when people have more time on their hands. We have also done Fusion cooking classes too and have plans to write a Nagai recipe book soon.
Your crockery is beautiful. Where is it from?
Secret shops in Nagoya…not easy to bring back but we have hilarious adventures organising transport and avoiding outrageous excess baggage costs!
Please tell us about your kitchen garden…
Our friends Doron and Zuri created it a few years ago and very year we have different friends help us bring it back to life after a restful winter. Lemongrass, mint, tomatoes, zucchinis, shiso, basil, etc. – it brings us closer to earth and makes the entrance look and smell wonderful!
A famous quote from you…“We are looking for a balance between the quality and style of traditional Japan, the appreciation for fine things for which Italy is famous for and the kind of lifestyle free of taboos and conditioning that Ibiza stands for”. Three incredible parts of the world all under one roof. On paper it shouldn’t work, but it does beautifully right?
Well it’s definitely worth a shot! We believe the world is getting faster on one side and on the other, people want to slow down and globalize back down to local, but, with an international quality and freshness of intuition. We have one life so let’s make it interesting!
Who are your inspirations from the cooking world?
My personal inspirations are not names, but a way of doing things simply and deliciously, inherent with many cultures around the world. Our chef Reina emulates her father, Eleonora her mother (who is also a pastry chef) and Luigi just loves to cook…and eat! I’m the lucky one who gets to taste everything!
What dish reminds you of your childhood?
Indian Samosas, chai and a mango for dessert.
What is your own speciality dish in the kitchen?
Guacamole and American vegan pancakes (my father’s recipe).
Please tell us about your sake and your relationship with the Japanese brewers…
During our visit to Japan this year we had the opportunity to see the whole sake brewing process first-hand and it has led to close relations with several different breweries. We are really excited about the different varieties of Sake (dry, sweet, balanced, aged, with plum and even a chardonnay and plum delicacy) and happy to introduce these delicious rice-wines to Ibiza. In Japan, Sake is appreciated in many different situations, with different foods, some are served warm, some cold, some at room temperature, some with added water. The next step is to introduce them to the Ibiza diners with different foods, not just warm, served with Sushi. We are convinced that many restaurants on Ibiza will be serving Sake in the near future, as in New York, Los Angeles and London.
Who are some of the famous faces that have eaten at your tables…?
We have had quite a few celebrities from all over the world dining at Nagai. However we often don’t recognise them (often our clients point them out to us). DJs, footballers, supermodels, actors…
And finally, let’s conclude with some words about your wonderful head chef Reina…
Reina is one of those people that at the beginning passes by unnoticed until she enters the arena – the kitchen! She has such refined taste buds and makes associations between tastes, textures and temperatures that lead to totally re-defining any dish she tries. It is always fascinating to visit restaurants around the world with her and observe how her mind begins to whirr, figuring out what is in each dish and how she can modify and improve it. Having learned at the side of her father in his restaurant in Japan and in the fish market with her grandfather, her knowledge of fish and Japanese traditional cooking is truly awesome. She has so many recipes up her sleeves that she has not yet shared with our guests that the future is quite succulent. She has lived in Canada, Thailand, Colorado, Italy and now Ibiza and speaks the most original mix of English, Italian and Spanish. Her adventurous spirit and willingness to go along and try new things make her an invaluable asset to the Nagai team.