Some 33 years ago, Chef Bun Lai’s mother, a nutritionist and avid gardener, opened Miya’s restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut. A trailblazer in its own right, Miya’s was the very first sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. It had 5 seats.
Now what exactly does sustainable sushi mean, you may ask? It means that healthy for our bodies can be directly linked to healthy for the planet, too. It turns out that Chef Bun’s menu is chock full of invasive species that many don’t know are a top-5-problems-in-the-entire-world kind of an issue. Take into consideration that Florida only has about 4% of its native species left. And how did these invaders such as Asian shore crabs or the Lion Fish come to be, quite literally, fish out of water? Well, they were mainly brought from their natural habitats to a habitat where they’re not supposed to be to end up causing major problems. Take the Dandelion for example, which was brought over, by Pilgrims, on the May Flower. And while this means trouble for our delicate ecosystems, if properly approached, it can mean wonders for our digestive systems. It turns out, that wild plants are exponentially more nutritious that any organic vegetable that you would ever cultivate.
And it’s not just about the ingredients that he’s using that other [restaurants] don’t, it’s also about those that he won’t use. Some 9 out of the 10 seafood offerings that are available at most sushi restaurants aren’t served at Miya’s. Things like tuna, shrimp, farmed salmon and yellow tail all have negative reverberations according to Chef Bun who also shares that most sushi is made with white rice and sugar making it far less than the healthy dining option we may have considered it to be in the past. That’s why he uses an unsweetened multigrain alternative. It’s that pushing of the proverbial envelope that makes him such a celebrated chef and titan of industry. And this is true of him across the board. He’s open about being particularly adamant about living and doing business in a way that’s in line with his values, principles and ethics and how sticking to that path, when coupled with his talent and artistry, will lead him where he needs to go, saying: “When I make decisions based on what I think is right, it forces me to become much more creative in order to survive in business and as such, a much better artist.
Today where he needs to go is to the 1 Hotel and Homes, a development that, similar to Miya’s cuisine concept, believes in sustainable approaches to living through their building which honors, protects and preserves the beauty of nature. And on that very sustainable ground, is where James Beard Foundation Award nominee Chef Bun will expand his sustainable seafood, plant and invasive species-based sushi from Miya’s onto The 1 Rooftop to create the eco-conscience pop-up restaurant PREY. As it turns out, some 99% of sushi restaurants aren’t doing what Chef Bun would consider “their part” to even remotely make an effort towards sustainability. An area probably easier to leave unexplored given that it’s difficult to get people to take a dip below the surface and try something new. For a while people would get up and leave Miya’s given the “different” nature of the menu. But one must trudge forward with a focus on their beliefs and with intentions set positively.
Chef Bun says that his dream has always been to, like a musician or a writer, touch people with his food. “To make something that is more than just beautiful or tasty but rather something that would strum on the heart strings—a love letter to humanity,” so to speak.
The best way to understand the concept, as he explains, is to compare it to method acting. Chef immerses himself into different cultures and ways of thinking to create his menu on the premise that food is a way to understand cultures and create trust. “One way to get to know someone,” he says, “is by what they eat.”
And on the subject of cultures, Chef also taught us that in Japanese, one says “itadakimasu” before eating in order to honor the farmer, the fisherman, the animal, the universe even, that provided the meal that will nourish your body and soul. It seems that an itadakimasu is in order for Chef Bun who will be hunting, diving and foraging, personally, for all of the indigenous-to-Florida items that will appear on Prey’s menu in his continued effort to nourish and revitalize our bodies and souls, while helping restore balance to our profoundly suffering planet
Some of the dishes to look forward to include: Prey’s Finger lickin’ Carp Ribs, Roasted Feral Pig and Tempura Weed Che paired with foraged berry and plant sake all while overlooking the beach and Miami skyline.