When Hernán Soria, Executive Chef of Akira at the Reserva del Higuerón and owner of the Club Japonés de Málaga, says he has a deep passion for all things to do with Japanese culture, it is easy to see he is a man of his word.

For 25 years of his illustrious career, he has worked either alongside Japanese chefs or on preparing Japanese cuisine, his first big break into this rich tradition occurring in his native Buenos Aires. “I worked for a Japanese family whose chef was 76 years old. The restaurant was so special because they used ingredients sourced from Okinawa. This type of cuisine is considered exclusive because Okinawa is such a tiny island. Production is small-scale and the produce and livestock is treated with care and respect.

His many years of experience apart, Hernán is a lover of the Japanese language. “I understand more than I speak,” he smiles, “since I was listening to this language for a greater part of my day for so many years.” The Chef travels frequently to Japan and has been creating Japanese pottery for many years now. “I have a teacher who has taught me to make everything from the beer glasses I serve at my restaurant, to serving platters.” He shows me one of his creations – an elaborate green ceramic plate, reminiscent of leaves in its design and bearing  a colourful array of sashimi pieces – no less than a feast for the eyes.

When I ask Hernán what attracted him to Japanese cuisine, he answers that it was the very experience of being immersed in it so early in his career. Oddly enough, in his first job, his role was mainly in management. “The family I was working for sent me to take cooking classes but they already had a Chef so I didn’t have a chance to really get stuck into the cooking.”

A chance holiday to a land he had always loved – Miami  – finally enabled him to delve into the intricate world of the Japanese kitchen. “I decided to go on a month’s vacation and it was the first time I had ever visited the U.S. Two days after arriving, I was already working at a Japanese restaurant (Shoji Sushi). I didn’t mind my vacation time being cut short at all; I always recall this as one of the best times of my life because I had never work so closely alongside a Japanese chef before and I learned so many cuts and techniques. The Executive Chef had worked in Nobu in the past and for me it was amazing to be with him.”

A look through Hernán Soria’s travel history tells many tales. The Chef has shone in a plethora of cities, including Buenos Aires (where he returned to work at a Japanese restaurant by day and by night at a teppanyaki and sushi bar), Puerto Banús (at Sushi Zona restaurant), again Miami (he worked at the Nobu restaurant at Miami’s Shore hotel), London (at Umu London), and Monte Carlo. He fondly recalls his experiences in London and Monte Carlo. “Umu in London serves kaiseki cuisine, which is considered haute cuisine).” In Montecarlo, he shone at Le Pacific Restaurant (featuring French/Japanese cuisine) for six years. During this time, he tells me, “I cooked for many celebrities, such as Prince Albert and family, Michael Schumacher, Tina Turner, Paris Hilton, and more.

How did Hernán land back in Spain, you may ask? “After the experience in Monaco, my wife and I were hovering between heading for Denmark and Spain as a place to raise our kids. I asked my wife to choose and she went for Spain. I opened my small restaurant in the Old Town of Málaga (the Club Japonés de Málaga). I opened on Christmas Eve because in Monaco, restaurants are full to the brim at this time of the year. We started out with one client a week, then two, and now, 10 years down the line, business is thriving.”

Hernán currently divides his time between Akira – the sexy rooftop terrace restaurant overlooking the sea – and the Club Japonés de Málaga. At Akira, urban vibes take the forefront, as guests enjoy a wide range of sushi and some hot dishes with an array of marvellous beers or a cocktail by the infinity pool.

At the Club Japonés de Málaga, Hernán tries to offer his clients something different – for instance, ramen, at the Osaka Festival, or nikkei delights that surprise and excite. “In Japan, hanami (the traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers through outdoor events) gives rise to many food festivals. At the Club Japonés we celebrate food festivals every weekend.” For Hernán, authenticity is an important part of what makes his food taste so good. “I cook all my stock for the ramen from scratch, with chicken, pork, and vegetables. These are cooked for hours so the dish really tastes like mother’s ramen!”

Hernán may have delighted the palates of many greats, but his heart is in the right place.

“I consider myself a Chef for the people who like my food. I make the same effort when I’m cooking a meal for my kids as I do for my best clients.” Whether at Akira or the Club Japonés de Málaga, he achieves his heartfelt aim every day, with food that soothes the soul and satisfies the restless spirit in search of a taste of home.