As a traveler, one expects unique experiences, but a Portuguese sushi chef just seems a bit odd. One could understand Spanish or French cuisine, but the pairing of a European cook and Far East cuisine seemed a bit like combining water and electricity. It may work out ok, but why take the chance? So, I was intrigued when I discovered Casa do Sushi near my apartment in the São Vicente area of Braga.
Chef/owner Pedro Henriques was born and raised in the Templar town of Tomar, located about 2 hours north-east of Lisbon. While pursuing a marketing degree at the university, he met his wife, Isa. After college, Pedro worked as an event planner. Unfortunately, that job disappeared with Portugal’s economic crisis in 2011. A few years later, the Pedro and Isa were forced to seek work in France. It was at this point that Pedro first became connected with the food industry, but not as a cook. He worked at a grocery store in Paris. It was a job that he hated. “It made money,” he said. It certainly did not feed his passion. Art. “I have always been an artist,” Pedro told me. Whether it was playing his bass guitar on stage during his teens, or behind the lens of a camera, or in the marketing department of a corporation. “Art has always been in my life. Art is very important to me.”
He wanted to go home but he needed a plan.
It was during this time of self-imposed “exile” that he noticed the cosmopolitan nature of Paris. The diversity of culture, music, food, and, of course, art. It was this epiphany, combined with his love for all things oriental that lay the groundwork for his plan. Though he lacked any formal culinary training or experience, he was a talented home chef. “My friends always told me that I was a good cook. I am the best cook at home,” he quipped. Food would be his new medium, and sushi would be his palette. And a unique palette at that. He would stand out from the crowd of Portuguese restaurants. He would be on stage again!
So he and Isa returned to Braga and set their bold plans in motion. The first step was to get some training. And fast. He attended cooking classes in Famalicão and Lisbon before a six-month sushi internship in Barcelos. After that, he opened the doors to Casa do Sushi. He started with two experienced sushi-men (as it turns out, most of these are Brazilian) teaching him the ropes, but after only a few months, he was on his own. In a little over a year, he’d gone from grocery store employee to chef/owner of a sushi house!
“Now the food is my art. It is different every day. It gives me inspiration. That is what gives me pleasure.”
That was three years ago, and although the business has been steadily growing, Pedro has decided to close his business. “It is too much,” he tells me. He is a one-man operation trying to run not only the business and food side of the operation, but the deliveries as well! Of course, Isa helps, but they have a family now, and even her time is divided.
So, he has taken a job at Subenshi in Porto. It is one of two locations here in Portugal. Porto is about an hour’s drive from Braga, so while we will be losing the convenience of a neighborhood location, we won’t be losing a great talent altogether.
“I like to make art. If I am just a business owner, I will lose the art. I will have more fun being a sushi-man,”
And that he is!