Before he hits the kitchen to prepare a one-off dinner in Dubai, Penelope Walsh meets Japan’s most iconic chef, 64-year-old Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa.
What do you think of Dubai’s other restaurants? They are very detailed and beautiful, but I know many chefs here, so I often get special treatment. My head chef at Nobu Dubai takes me out for dinner; last time we went to TOMO and 101.
Your cooking is described as ‘Nobu style’, what is that? I started as a sushi chef in Japan, and then moved to Peru. Peruvian cooking uses olives, chillies, garlic, cilantro, olive oil and I’d never used these ingredients before. I learnt from Peruvian cuisine, and my style became Japanese food with a Peruvian influence.
How is Nobu style different from Nikkei fusion cooking? ‘Nikkei’ are the Japanese in Peru. Over a hundred years ago, Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru, which had its own food culture from the Incas. The Japanese immigrants created their own mix of Japanese and Peruvian food. They took fresh fish, cooked it with lemon, and called it ceviche, and made yakitori-style skewers from beef heart, called anticuchos.
You were the first to champion Peruvian cuisine. Now it has taken off globally. How do you feel about this? It’s a good feeling. Peruvian food inspired me, it changed my cooking style completely, and I am very grateful to Peru and happy to see it inspire the world right now.
Which cuisine could be the next dark horse global hit? [Pauses] French.
How do you keep an eye on standards in each of your restaurants around the world? I travel for ten months of the year, visiting each restaurant. Next week I’ll be in Moscow. In the first couple of years I worried more than now. My head chef at Nobu Dubai worked at Nobu Paris before and he has worked with me for 12 years. It is as if he was a ten-year-old child and now, he has grown into an adult. It’s like a family; I visit each restaurant, and it is like visiting my kids across the world.
Do you have a favourite in the Nobu family of restaurants? Not a favourite, but my first child: Matsuhisa in Beverley Hills, which opened in 1987.
Miso black cod is your famous signature dish, how does it feel when restaurants copy it? I’m happy. People see it on a menu and think ‘this is Nobu’, that makes me very proud.
You’ve made cameos appearances in several films such as Casino and Austen Powers, when can we expect a Nobu biopic? Sounds good! Will you direct it?
Definitely. When do we start? I’m 64 now, many people have told me I should write my memoirs. I have always said no, until now, and I have finally started writing my autobiography. The book will come out next year, so maybe someone will say, ‘Nobu, this would make a good film’. Nobu Dubai, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0760).