Jojo Villaresis of Mai Mai’s in Sooke followed his passion for food and opened a sushi restaurant which is proving to be popular with local foodies.

Chefs of Sooke: Jojo Villaresis

Seven years in the making, Jojo opens his own restaurant

  • Dec. 17, 2014 6:00 a.m.

Fate brought Jojo to cooking and to Sooke

Daniel Chauvin

Sooke News Mirror

For some, being a chef is a career choice that a cook decides to take when their their skills  and ambition pushes them to the next level culinary opportunity.  For others, it springs from a deep well of love:  a passion for food and the satisfaction it brings to serve it up to appreciative patrons.  Jojo Villaresis from Mai Mai’s restaurant is one of the enthusiastic latter.

Originally from the Philippines, Villaresis moved directly to Vancouver Island when he was 16. His first job was as a busser and he discovered shortly after that restaurants were his thing.  “I got nosy,” he said, “itching to learn new things, snooping around the kitchen.”

In the funny twists and turns of fate, Villaresis originally  thought about cooking but decided on a lucrative career in computer tech at the Vancouver Island University. Asking the desk clerk about the program, she told him there would be a six-month waiting list and that he best set his sites on another venture. “What’s open?” he asked. “The chef program and it’s for one year,” she answered.  It was fate, he decided.

The next thing he knew, he was finishing his program and being sent for chef training at Chateau Whistler. His specialty was in the French Culinary school.

After working a stint there, he came back to the island and began working with sushi in Nanaimo. Cooking Asian cuisine was new to him, but it fit his profile: he loved Japanese food and was getting his opportunity to shine.

Years passed and he got the itch to move onward again. This time he ended up in Tofino at ‘Tough City’ sushi for five years and got the opportunity to work with actual Japanese sushi chefs. His first feedback on his sushi skills were discouraging.  “You’re way off,” he was told.

Taking that as a sign to rise above his limitations, Villaresis set about mastering the lessons taught with a desire to do something uniquely his own.  That was the beginning of his Mai Mai’s idea.  Combining the French culinary background with his new set of sushi skills, he would take the best of both traditions and make an Jojo fusion.

Feeling stuck in Tofino, he decided to make a break for Victoria to get things going for himself.  With self-inflicted pressure and oodles of motivation he set about a three-year plan:  go back to Tofino for the grind, and work his hiney off to be able to fund his vision.

Working hard for two more dedicated years, he persevered the Tofino detour to his dream. Getting back to Victoria, he scoured the Victoria and Langford market for restaurants. Nothing struck a tone with him, but something else jumped out of the screen:  “Restaurant in Sooke ready to go!”  The price was doable and when he got to the restaurant he was amazed by the size of it.

Mai Mai’s, seven years in the making was now a reality.  He has been there for three years and has been serving up locals and travelers with his unique creations and delectable dishes.

Proud to use and support local and sustainable products, he has conjured some sushi magic with the rockin’ rock crab and wild sockeye ‘Island Roll’ to the savoury sea-inspired ‘Wild Coast’.  Now the owner of a new restaurant in Victoria, Villaresis has come a long way into doing what he loves best:  bringing his passionate heart into a total food experience, that looks and tastes the way ‘food should’ and serving up people that come together to fall in love with food.  This is what brings him happiness.

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