Meet the Maker: Mayumi Hattori from Club Car
Everything about Mayumi exudes strength. Her smile, her hands, her eyes. She glows with a confidence and courage and hope - thoughtful and intent yet always light-hearted, quick to turn the deepest of conversations into a manageable thought morsel.
And the more you learn about the trials of owning a restaurant, the tribulations of taking over and morphing what was considered an island institution, founded on classic French food, into a vegetable-centric, sustainably-minded, passion-driven establishment, the more you realize how strength and determination in excess are essential to survival, a pre-cursor to success.
But everything has its counterpoint and the heaviness of strength and determination are balanced by a lightness.
Light was a both a word and a feeling that came up often in our conversation about food and about Mayumi’s restaurant, Club Car, coming into its second season.
The light pours in through the windows, the white walls and green plants and mid-century decor provides a respite, a breath of lightness, from the heat and brick outside. Mayumi always wanted to bring the outside in but she has done it a way where she has taken the best of the outside and brought that in, leaving the rest to rush on by outside.
Light is also the word that kept coming up in discussion about the menu and the food, the ingredients that Mayumi carefully and thoughtfully sources. The focus is on letting the ingredients speak for themselves - to artistically show us eaters how a light touch on the best ingredients can provide all the flavor and all the excitement you could ever want from a plate of food. This focus on the perfect ingredients is one that rings true for me - having grown up with an Italian grandmother whose idea of the perfect Sunday out was taking two hours sourcing the three-ingredients needed for the homemade pasta she and I would spend the rest of the Sunday making at her kitchen table, hanging the pasta all over the kitchen to dry, with Murder She Wrote on in the background.
This obsession with ingredients still feels almost exotic - Not so much an American tradition but one handed down to us by parents and grandparents who grew up in places where markets with the freshest produce were an essential part of every day and the basis for every meal.
Mayumi and I shared a good laugh about the hunt for the perfect ingredients, a hunt that Mayumi grew up with as well - the farmer’s markets of LA being the hunting grounds of her parents, both of whom hail from cultures where the beauty, flavors and precision of great ingredients are key to the perfect meal.
Mayumi grew up in LA, her mother from Spain and her father from Japan. Her passion for seasons and great ingredients shaped by memories of cruising the markets for produce during the week, visiting her uncle, a butcher, in Spain, her father cooking on weekends, mother during the week. If a food situation could be more perfect, I haven’t heard of it before. While some of us think of casseroles as comfort food, Mayumi remembers nothing being more special than a tomato with a bit of salt when she was feeling under the weather.
We talked about food, ingredients, fisheries, sustainability, relatives obsessed with ingredients, seasons, difficulty of sourcing local, eating meat, success and food as a tool for political action. We focused on the joy of great ingredients and the conversation about the simple pleasure of casual dinner conversation over a meal that never weighs you down but rather leaves you feeling sated - not just your hunger but in your mind and heart.
What I really loved the most about our conversation: Mayumi’s definition of success and her comment on the New England seasons. While many would see the West Coast as a Mecca for year-round produce, Mayumi sought out the East Coast - as a challenge. For the excitement of the short seasons that blast you with buckets and buckets of a particular vegetable only to disappear completely the following week, until next year. Some of us might dream of long seasons and strawberries piled high for months - others, like Mayumi, seek the beauty and the challenge of, hold a reverence and excitement for, the New England food scene and short intense seasons. A reverence which she translates beautifully onto the Club Car menu.
And Mayumi’s definition of success: simply having the opportunity to share her passion for beautiful ingredients, simply prepared, that celebrates the flavors of the season and the local producers.
unless otherwise credited all photo credits to: Katie Kaizer Photography and The Club Car’s Instagram!