Jetsetting With Miya’s Sushi Chef Bun Lai
James Beard Foundation nominee Bun Lai is the owner of and chef at the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant: Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut. Chef Lai’s travels are driven by a search for edible invasive species to serve at his sushi bar, which has led to many an adventure.
We got the scoop about chef Lai’s most memorable trip, the destination to which he’d most like to return, and his plans to live in the Australian Outback.
Q: What type of traveler are you? (i.e. adventurer, cultural explorer, free spirit, rejuvenator, spa aficionado, etc.)
A: In everyday life and in my travels I see myself as a connector, a friend-maker, and a perpetual student.
Q: What types of activities do you like to do on your travels? Do you look for a place where it’s quiet and you can relax or someplace that has great activities or nightlife?
A: I often find myself in the home of new friends—peeling, chopping, and helping the mom out as she prepares a nourishing meal for her family.
Q: When thinking about where you will travel to next, what inspires you to make a decision? And what, if any, research do you do about that destination?
A: I’m interested in traveling to places where people are the most different from who I am. One of my dearest friends is an ecological anthropologist. He gives me plenty of suggestions for where I might go to glean ideas about healthier ways of living and eating.
Q: What is the most memorable trip you’ve taken and why?
A: It was after my first year in college that I visited Brest, France, for two weeks and stayed in the countryside with a beautiful, shy French girl with a smoky voice. The summer before, I met Patricia at a campsite in Costa Brava, Spain. Now in Brest, she and her cousin took me out to pry abalone off of rocks, which we ate on the half shell with homemade herb vinegar. I will never forget my time in Brest, the ancient stone houses and churches, the craggy cold sea, and the most pleasurably complex cheeses and breads I had ever experienced at that point in my life … and I had Patricia there with me.
Q: What is the best food you’ve ever found on a trip?
A: The food I enjoy the most is always a home-cooked meal of traditional family recipes.
Q: What, if anything, do you always take with you when you travel?
A: A credit card, my smartphone, a solar phone charger, a light laptop, pens, a toothbrush, a medical kit, an army knife, soap, a drop line and fishing hooks, and Ziploc bags.
Q: What’s your best piece of travel advice?
A: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Q: Is there a destination to which you can’t imagine not returning?
A: When I was a teenager I went backpacking in Costa Rica. I will never forget a kind old nurse named Marta who let me stay in her home and cared for me like her own child. Nor will I ever forget the taste of the Caribbean Sea as a wave broke over my head; or the large land crabs that I wanted to catch and eat despite the locals telling me not to; or the maddening buzz of thousands of hungry mosquitoes; or my favorite Latin songs that were hits playing on the radio then. I’ve been yearning to go back to Costa Rica since the day I left.
Q: Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A: I like to get lost by taking long drives, without an idea of where I’ll be going. I meet people and see places I would have never experienced this way.
Q: Where would you like to travel to next?
A: I will be going to live in the northern South Australian Outback to immerse myself in the Aboriginal communities there. I’ll make sure to learn every word of the song “Waltzing Matilda” before I arrive.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming project(s)?
A: I’m chasing edible invasive species around the world while immersing myself in indigenous and traditional communities who are affected by them. Ultimately, my travel experiences become recipes that are served at my restaurant, Miya’s Sushi.
Chef Bun Lai’s Bio:
Chef Bun Lai is the proprietor of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut. Chef Lai also serves as the director of a non-for-profit that serves low income diabetics, is an author who has been published in Scientific American Magazine, and has spoken at Harvard School of Public Health, Culinary Institute of America, and World Wildlife Fund at National Geographic Society. He is a James Beard Foundation nominee. Miya’s Sushi (which his nutritionist mother founded more than three decades ago) is the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. Chef Lai supplies his own sushi bar by hunting, diving, and foraging for invasive species from the craggy shores of the Long Island Sound to the tropical wetlands of the Everglades.