The summer of Yong Wu Nagahira (34) has been limited to taking five days of vacation. "The most I've taken in recent years has been a week," he says as he takes the last puffs of a cigar at the door of his local Ikigai Velázquez. Parisian by birth and with Asian ancestry, in the few days he has forgotten the routine he began to spin another concept. "I like to make people happy with food. However, not everyone can afford to come to my restaurants. I've thought a lot about creating something where you can eat well and cheaply. More tavern type with an average ticket of 25 euros".

Its two restaurants (both recommended by the Michelin Guide) are Ikigai Flor Baja and Ikigai Velázquez, two Japanese restaurants with a common chef and two distinct personalities. In the first he feels freer to create; The second has a "more battle" concept, with a less risky and more conventional proposal. In the opening between one and the other there were great differences; the main one, the maturity and personal growth acquired by the chef. The first project opened it alone; the last, with partners.

It's 12 o'clock in the morning and in Ikigai Velázquez the team is already working; Suppliers come and go, the tables are set up and at the bar they cut a couple of pieces of tuna. The decoration of the place is spectacular. "We opened a year and two months ago," he recalls, sitting at the bar. It was difficult to make a team because he formed them from scratch and learning to find the formula for the public has made him change concepts on the fly.

Listen and analyze all the criticisms made by customers. "If someone tells me they didn't like something, it's for a reason. The bad opinion that a diner gave me about the rolls caused Velázquez to change them all in a couple of days. It didn't make much sense to make them with fried egg foam; People demanded simpler things."

The chef cutting a piece of tuna.

Trained with one of the great references of Japanese cuisine in Madrid, Masaya Ohama, in 2018 he decided to fly alone and opened his place in Flor Baja, where he develops his most creative line and moves freely. "My head never stops. I'm always thinking about something." A few meters from the Gran Vía you can enjoy the most authentic version of its cuisine.

There he started only with a proposal that played with his three reference countries: Japan, France and Spain. The highest quality product and avant-garde elaborations always as a roadmap. "At first I focused on making Japanese cuisine with French and Spanish touches," but he saw clearly that "I had to skip that line." And he switched to a "Mediterranean cuisine with Japanese touches."

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The Nigiris soon gained fame. "The average that a diner asks for is 8 or 10," he explains. In this matter it has real hits. There are flambéed sea bass with beurre blanc sauce and jerky from Astorga, razor clam with acorn jowl and shitake mushroom cream and squid noodles with sake sabayon, in the fused section. In the classics, bull, macerated mackerel and sea urchin define the proposal that is always attached to the seasonal product. "Now the marmitako dish comes off the menu and game, sweet potato, pumpkin come in..." What there has never been are "sushi or tartares because they do not pose a challenge".

A corner of Ikigai Velázquez.

Shy and restless, he is a tireless worker. "I'm now with a gyoza that I want to taste like the Big Mac. As a child I hardly tried this type of food and when I went it was quite an experience," he says with a smile. Your day starts with a while of early meditation and ends with a daily balance of what you have done in the day; In between a lot of cuisine -it is always in one of the services of its restaurants- and some gym to reduce stress. "Now I also try to eat well and with a certain order." Reconciling with the family – he has three children – costs him a little more. "I leave the house early and come back after 12 o'clock at night." Of course, Sunday and Monday are for them.

He has been thinking for some time that "he can do much more than he does". His head does not stop looking for challenges and ways to improve, although he has also learned to take things more calmly. "Constantly changing dishes doesn't make any sense. It does it every season, something that no Michelin star does." Since last year it changes one or two dishes per season. He admits that it costs him the public relations part that the world of gastronomy now entails. His time on MasterChef Celebrity has been the acid test he has successfully passed. "I prepared for it. I always try to do things as well as possible." Despite his discretion, it is still his best letter of introduction.

Addresses: Ikigai Flor Baja: Flor Baja, 5/ Ikigai Velázquez: Velázquez, 136.