“If there is an ethos behind the menu, it is that we actively avoid imitating fish or other animal foods. When asked what we use in place of salmon, for example, our response is that our sushi celebrates the full flavours and textures of the vegetal world, no “fish” needed. We are not a fan of the “without fish it’s not sushi” philosphy, which is a version of “without meat it’s not a meal”. -Alan Pater, El Buda Profano
Back in the day, I used to glean 100% of my food inspired wanderlust from the pages of food and travel themed magazines. It was both treat and ritual to visit the local bookstore and pore over the various options, looking for a publication that would inspire an interest in place as well as appeal to my palate and curiousity about local ingredients and culinary traditions.
Even in our increasingly digitized age, I still crave flipping the pages of a gorgeous and well produced publication to read stories of chefs and dishes, regional flavors and neighborhood haunts. But, as is standard now today, I also turn to digital platforms to explore what’s out there, in areas of the world I may have never even conceived of visiting yet, often discovering establishments that then become fixtures on my travel list of places to dream of journeying to for an epic or simply delicious culinary experience.
So it was when I searched for #vegansushi on Instagram and came across El Buda Profano’s account.
Having grown up in California and Hawai’i with what I would regard as a moderate to high degree of familiarity with good sushi, I am particular. Add to that the “vegan” aspect, and the list of accessible places grows shorter.
Even so, that list is also, with time, growing quickly and developing its own identity and appeal in a culinary landscape increasingly welcome to and curious about plant-based options. I have tried (and enjoyed) vegan sushi in multiple cities and could never tire of seeing this niche expand.
I am fairly certain I sat up straight and alert in my seat upon landing on El Buda Profano’s Instagram account, then travelling on to their Facebook page and website. Not only did their rolls and dishes look exquisite but their media was gorgeously produced, conveying a quiet sophistication and warm, inviting atmosphere with full focus on food.
We reached out to El Buda Profano for a moment of their time to learn more about the restaurant and its culinary ethos. Alan Pater, El Buda Profano’s owner and chief dishwasher originally hailing from Vancouver, Canada (home to no shortage of wonderful vegan and sushi restaruants itself), responded.
Alan conceived of the idea for a vegan sushi restaurant in Arequipa in 2015, bootstrapping the plan on his own. El Buda Profano’s menu was developed in concert with Peruvian Master Chef Jim Daniel Echevarría and opened to the public later in 2015 on December 22.
INTERVIEW WITH ALAN PATER OF EL BUDA PROFANO
First, let’s get right to it! Why vegan sushi?
Alan: Sushi because, well, sushi! And vegan because, to paraphrase, it’s the 21st century. It’s time, no?
How do you balance your owner as well as head dishwasher duties?
Alan: Not very well, it’s a more then full time job! But dishwashing is one of the most important jobs in a restaurant, so I’m not going to drop that!
How did the chef collaboration with Jim Daniel Echevarría come about?
Alan: I advertised locally for a chef to help me develop the menu. Daniel was teaching at a cooking school in town and the concept grabbed his attention. After a few meetings to make sure we were on the same page, the colaboration was born, with fantastic results!
I have had vegan sushi at various establishments around the planet. I appreciate superb quality vegan sushi that also surprises with its ingredients. From looking at El Buda Profano reviews, it seems your food offers precisely that. What are your thoughts on diner responses since El Buda Profano was founded?
Alan: Very happy. The results have exceeded my expectations, so much so that my initial nerviousness has been replaced with the certainty that we can replicate the concept to many other locations in South America! (PS: Investors wanted.)
Can you share a bit about the culinary ethos behind the menu?
Alan: If there is an ethos behind the menu, it is that we actively avoid imitating fish or other animal foods. When asked what we use in place of salmon, for example, our response is that our sushi celebrates the full flavours and textures of the vegetal world, no “fish” needed. We are not a fan of the “without fish it’s not sushi” philosphy, which is a version of “without meat it’s not a meal”.
As the owner of a beloved vegan sushi restaurant, what are your thoughts on developing the umami sense via plant based dishes?
Alan: Japanese cuisine has always incorporated plant based umami in the form of mushrooms and algea. So we borrowed a few techniques from Shojin Ryori – Japanese buddhist cuisine – to bring those traditions to Peru. But as we are not a temple, we call ourselves “the profane buddha“.
Are there certain dishes that seem to surprise people?
Alan: We try not to have any duds on the menu, but a common comment is that people don’t miss the fish.
What are your personal favorite rolls or dishes?
Alan: That changes week by week, but lately I’ve been enjoying the buda maki and the yam tempura roll.
What does your team love about working there?
Alan: The customer feedback. People go out of their way to tell the kitchen staff how much they enjoyed the food. And they enjoy working at a sushi place where they don’t have to handle fish, which is kind of gross, no?
The atmosphere looks very special. Can you share anything about the building or interior?
Alan: The historic center of Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Buildings are made of sillar, a white volcanic stone quaried just outside of town. I’ve heard a couple of stories of what our location was originally built for. One is stables, the other is housing for the servants of the nuns for the convent across the street.
The website states that the food at El Buda Profano is enjoyed by “vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and carnivores alike.” This is really wonderful- that people across the spectrum are able to find satisfaction in the food. Why do you think El Buda Profano’s menu appeals to people with so many different styles of consumption?
Alan: I strongly believe in making it not only easy, but a pleasure for people to choose vegan when dining out. That applies not only to the menu, but to the entire ambience of the place, to the level of customer service, to the pricing. We don’t expect people to pay extra, to put up with slow service, to be bombarded with vegan propaganda when they only want to come out for a nice evening on the town. It’s a whole package deal.
Visit El Buda Profano online at http://elbudaprofano.com/en/
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk