photography by Robert Bomgardner
My partner Jules and I showed up at 8:00 on a Thursday night. I had let Chef Bun Lai, infamous owner of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, CT know we were coming and that we wanted to talk about a story for our magazine (the one you’re reading). The host said he wasn’t going to be able to make it - but there were plans in store for us… Every conceivable sake beverage proceeded to make its way to our tiny table, followed by a seemingly endless flow of what appeared to be everything on the menu including Pumpkin Miso-infused with locally foraged, invasive Codium, followed by Bun’s signature Tokyo Phro of crispy organic potatoes with homegrown roasted wax worms drizzled with a creamy tomato remoulade which our other partner, Mitja in Europe still has dreams about, then a Water Piglet sushi roll of applewoodsmoked Connecticut mackerel, goat cheese, and cranberries. This was all accompanied by that fuzzy feeling you get when “you know the owner” who we hadn’t even met yet, but were about to later that evening and who would sit with us until we walked out at nearly 2am.
Bun is a James Beard Nominated chef possessing all the social prowess, coolness, intellect and charm with a mega-passion for being ecologically responsible one might aspire to. His mother first opened Miya’s (named after his sister) in 1982 and he has since taken over the joint. He’s undoubtedly the coolest guy in the room as he walks through Miya’s, sitting down and introducing himself to couples and groups of Yale students, covertly having all sorts of interesting edible creations that are truly beautiful works of art delivered to their tables… and ours. This is part of the beauty of Miya’s Sushi. It’s an experience talking with Bun, listening to his sentiments and how he does things, but not in a contrived or pretentious way - because he means it.
Miya’s Sushi is a place where ecological responsibility rules alongside culinary innovation in a way that transcends the original culture from which it was spawned. While the restaurant (namely sushi) industry has had devastating effects on the environment and on our oceans, Bun’s response was to initiate a sushi evolution. He created and ever-evolving menu that embraces the idea of mindful eating, restoration and healing by utilizing locally invasive plants like Japanese knot weed and sea-finds like invasive Asian shore crab and wild seaweeds which can have devastating effects on the environment and indigenous life. He also includes protein-rich edible insects, and wild and responsibly-caught seafood which does not have a negative impact on the world’s oceans or the world itself for that matter.
Bun Lai’s incredibly innovative and ridiculously tasty cuisine is calculated and designed to prevent and counteract damage done to our ecosystem and protect the biodiversity of our planet. His, is an incredible concept with a passionate cult following (of which I am one) which has changed the entire concept of traditional sushi as we know it.
Well done Bun!