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Arturo De La Fuente, the chef at Sayulita Sushi Delivery, was born and raised in Irapuato, Guanajuato, in Mexico. He has traveled extensively and has worked in restaurants in Mexico, Guatemala, and Israel. After several years of traveling and hitchhiking throughout Mexico, he and his wife, Halo, decided to lay down roots in Sayulita. Fast forward eight years, and they are still here, and have a highly popular sushi delivery and catering business. In fact, they were voted “Best of Sayulita 2015” in the Best Private Chef category in an online viewers’ poll on Sayulita Life.
So, first off, how did your passion for cooking develop?
My dad really likes to cook. Even though my mom didn’t really like him cooking because he left a huge mess, he would often cook when I was a child. He was a big influence on my love to cook and taught me many things, like how to use a knife without cutting myself. I’ve always liked to experiment and do creative things with hands, so cooking was a natural fit.
How did you get your start as a chef?
I first started in the restaurant business when I was 14 or 15 years old, but I wasn’t working as a chef. I cleaned the kitchen, which was huge and had pots the size of me. Then when I was about 18, I started working as a waiter in a new restaurant that was virtually three restaurants serviced by one kitchen. I was always very curious about the sushi bar and would watch the sous chef and ask questions about what he was doing. When the sous chef quit, the owner brought in a new sous chef and I would watch and tell him, “He wouldn’t do it that way, he would do it this way”. The owner asked me to help the sous chef and I started to work with him. The owner really helped me a lot, sending me to classes to learn about food safety and sanitation. I learned the best way to store food, how to tell if meat and fish is good or bad, how to avoid contamination, and so much more.
What made you want to cook professionally in Sayulita?
It was a new place to learn, there was no sushi place in Sayulita, and I had a lot of experience. Also, being on the coast, there was all the fresh fish and seafood I could use.
Are there any challenges to being a chef in Sayulita, what is harder and what is easier?
Well, with the heat it can be challenging to keep everything as fresh as possible. But, it is definitely easier to find fresh fish in Sayulita than it is in Guanajuato, which is 10 hours from the coast. There, the fish would come frozen, and here, it is so fresh. I like to go to the market in La Cruz and see the fish for myself, and I always pick the ones that have the best color and best smell. I also buy fish in Sayulita from the local fishermen, but the most variety can be found in La Cruz. We also sometimes find it challenging to avoid wasting food, but we do our best to avoid that by giving our scraps to pigs, hens, and other animals, and we compost.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I’ve learned all the traditional Mexican plates and have combined that with what I’ve learned on my travels. I can do everything from Mexican, Mediterranean, barbeque, vegetarian, seafood to sushi. So, basically international fusion, but I specialize in grilling, sushi, and Mediterranean food.
What do you like about being the chef at Sayulita Sushi Delivery?
I like seeing the reaction of the people after they eat the food. For instance, when people order sushi two days in a row or twice in a weekend, it must mean they really enjoyed it. We only deliver sushi three days in a row, so everything is super fresh. I also like finding creative ways to use the fish that is leftover after the three days we’re open. I recently experimented and came up with a tuna burger that Halo and I really enjoyed. It was so good that we have added it to our menu.
What are your favorite, fresh from Sayulita ingredients to use?
Seasonal fruit, such as mangos and pineapple. And the fish, of course. We also have a garden and grow fresh herbs and chili peppers.
When creating a complete meal in Sayulita, what factors do you take into consideration?
I consider all of the vegetables, protein, and fiber. I also have to consider the taste preferences of my clients, as well as any allergies and special requests, such as no gluten.
Do you have a signature dish? If so, what is it and how would you describe it?
We have a spicy mango, tuna salad that comes with veggies and seaweed wraps for people to build their own sushi cones. The tuna burgers have also been a huge hit. They come with homemade pickles, a mango habanero salsa, and a side of homemade steak fries.
Will you share your most entertaining “kitchen disaster” story?
Ten years ago, I was working in a beach club in Israel during the war. The place was packed and I was the only person working in the kitchen. I had just started working there and I couldn’t speak Hebrew or English, only Spanish. It was really challenging, but in the end, it all worked out.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool to use in Sayulita and why?
A knife - it’s tied to learning to use them when I was very young. I’ve always loved knives and now that I have good chef ones, I am even happier using them. It also makes work easier.
If you could recommend one other Sayulita restaurant other than yours, what would it be?
We rarely eat out because we love to cook so much, but we really love Don Juan’s, the pasta at Leda’s, and the pizza at Pizza Venezia.
If you had to choose a last meal, what would it be?
Flour tortillas that my mom makes. *Hmm…this is a hard question* I guess a whole Mediterranean spread -- Falafel, kabobs, you name it...
Anything else you’d like to add?
We will continue to create more dishes and bring new flavors to the people here in Sayulita and give them the best possible service.