Meet the chef: Jotta Cunha, Pacha Sushi Lounge

Photography by Ana Lui

Born in Rio de Janeiro, sushi chef Jotta Cunha was influenced by the extremely popular Japanese culture in Brazil from an early age – by his childhood doctor in fact! Today, he expertly slices and dices the island’s finest Japanese fare on a nightly basis, before an awe-struck audience on the Pacha Restaurante terrace.

What inspired you to become a chef?
In Brazil there is a huge Japanese community and when I left Rio to live in another city, I was looking for a job and found myself in front of a Japanese restaurant. They accepted me to work as a waiter and I was interested in their culture more than the cuisine! The restaurant owners were a family that taught me, little by little, to do things here and there in the kitchen. From the ‘90s I lived surrounded by the Japanese culture, my friends were Japanese…

How did you come to work at Pacha Restaurante?
I came here by chance 10 years ago, just for the summer season. I didn’t want to leave Brazil for long but I ended up staying all winter. I was running a sushi bar for a Brazilian friend, and the guys from Pacha made friends with the people from my restaurant and then I started working here in 2001. Before I came to work here I thought the restaurant was inside the club. At the beginning I was a bit shy to be cooking in front of the people but because I am quite meticulous it worked out.

How do you describe your style in the kitchen?
I am very peaceful. Because I cook in front of people, I cannot make any mistakes – there is pressure in that sense. In summer we have lots of people and work is very concentrated, so sometimes I get a bit stressed because everything has to go out as soon as it is prepared, to have it on the table as fresh as possible.

What is your signature dish?
The tempura prawn roll with spicy sauce, called Funky Maki. The old Japanese chefs were against doing tempura rolls, frying the rolls with batter and at the beginning I didn’t like to do it either, because I’ve been classically trained. Then a new chef that had worked in Barcelona asked me to do it as a trial and it has become really popular! You have to evolve…

What’s your own favourite food?
I like to eat fast food. Sometimes I like to try Ibicencan food and I also like Thai food.

How does your kitchen work in synergy with the Mediterranean kitchen?
With (Mediterranean chef) Ramiro, things changed. Before we used to do basic sushi and when he arrived we started introducing foie in the rolls and other unusual things. Now I have a new vision about the food. We inspire each other.

What do you like the most about living in Ibiza?
The most relaxing time is winter, it is very quiet and I love spring when the flowers are blossoming around Salinas. I love going to Dalt Vila, it is beautiful. Then I love all the little coves too. In Brazil the beaches are really long and when I saw the size of the beaches here I just loved it.