Nobu Matsuhusa interview

Japanese masterchef shares some of the secrets of his success

Interview

As world-renowned chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, better known as Nobu, opens his second restaurant in the region, Time Out catches up with Japan’s Nikkei master to discover the secrets of his success.

Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, known simply as ‘Nobu’ to the world, currently has 29 restaurants in 28 cities around the world, spanning across five continents. Alongside Nobu Dubai at Atlantis The Palm (the chef’s only restaurant in the Middle East for nearly a decade), our GCC-neighbour Doha is now expecting its own branch to open imminently at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Born and raised in Siatama, Japan, Nobu served his apprenticeship at a sushi bar in Tokyo before moving to a sushi establishment in Peru. From there, he moved to Argentina, back to Japan, onto Alaska and then to Los Angeles, where he now resides. His first restaurant, Matsuhisa, opened in Beverly Hills, California, in 1987. It’s here where his long-term friendship with movie star Robert De Niro began. De Niro and chef Nobu opened the first Nobu restaurant in New York in 1994, and their friendship and collaboration has remained since.

Accolades for his restaurants include Matsuhisa being chosen by The New York Times as one of the top ten restaurant destinations in the world in 1993, Nobu being awarded Best Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 1995, Nobu London being awarded a Michelin star in 1997, as well as a Michelin star for his restaurants in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, Berkeley and San Diego. We caught up with the prestigious cook to discover the secrets of his success.

How long have you been a chef?
More than 40 years.

Why does presentation play such a big part in Japanese cuisine?
I think presentation is important in all types of cuisine. Food shouldn’t just be pleasing to the palate, but also pleasing to the eye. There should be balance on the plate. The colours and shapes should complement each other. Nature can be the perfect guide for food presentation, just like the four seasons. In spring and summer I use lighter colours, such as more greens, whites and reds. In the fall and winter I use darker and richer ingredients.

What sets Nobu restaurants apart from others?
I don’t try to be different. I focus on and listen to the needs of my guests and try to interpret what may be appealing to them. That allows guests to participate in crafting their own personal dining experiences.

What’s the philosophy of your cooking?
I believe quality food and good service are both necessary to make the customer happy. We try to use the freshest and best quality ingredients available in all of our dishes. I also want to keep my staff happy. Some of them have been here for 20 years so they are like family to me.

How do you design your menu?
All of our locations have the same signature dishes on their menus – yellowtail jalapeno, sashimi salad, black cod miso etc. Our customers look for these when they go to a Nobu restaurant. We also have specials using ingredients from local markets. For example, San Diego has wonderful sea urchin so we use it to create some of the best dishes at Nobu San Diego.

Should customers experience your food in a certain way?
Typically, in a Japanese restaurant, the rice dish is served at the end of the meal because it is the heaviest. That means, typically, sushi is always one of the last dishes that guests will eat. By the time they get to the sushi course, some of them will be starting to feel full from all of the other dishes they’ve eaten so far, and they may miss out on having sushi. I like to serve cold dishes and lighter dishes first, followed by two or maybe three pieces of sushi and end with hot, heavier meat or fish dishes, sushi (if there’s still room for more), soup, and finally dessert.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
All of the traditional ones, such as sashimi salad and any sashimi with dried miso.

What do you cook at home?
I travel ten months of the year, so I never really cook at home. Whatever my wife decides she is cooking is what I have.
Nobu Dubai, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).

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