Time Out Dubai sits down with celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has just opened his 16th restaurant right here in Dubai. He chats to Amy Mathieson about the new venture, globetrotting, sushi and more

If you don’t love what you’re doing, there’s no point doing it,” intones chef Masaharu Morimoto, as he proudly surveys his massive new restaurant in Business Bay.

And with 16 restaurants around the world, it’s safe to say he follows his own advice.

Morimoto Dubai is the first UAE venture for the celebrity chef, who is famed globally for his fusion dishes, as well as for being the TV star of Iron Chef in both Japan and America.

The restaurant opened in the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Business Bay last month, and it’s a huge space. With room for more than 200 diners, the cool new eatery is set on the 23rd and 24th floors of the hotel and, alongside a huge terrace offering stunning views across the city, there’s also a teppanyaki bar and a 24-seat sushi counter.

“This is restaurant number 16,” Morimoto beams, settling into a seat by one of the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. “For each one I bring a different décor and menu and here we have the teppan bar, as we want to cook dishes with our customers,” he explains. “It’s interactive. My whole concept is to have energy, and to have fun with our diners.”

Morimoto has a very hands-on approach with the restaurant, too, as he does with all of his ventures. He first opened a restaurant in Japan in 1979, and now has venues in the world’s most famous cities – from New York to Mumbai, Mexico City to Las Vegas – so Dubai is joining a prestigious list.
“People ask me why Dubai?,” he says. “And it’s because here, I can do what I want. We can get ingredients from everywhere. We’re free. People here are so international, too. This is a big opportunity to challenge myself.”

Morimoto doesn’t have time to eat out much, but praises the dining scene here in Dubai, and tries to visit new restaurants during his regular trips to the city.

“Of course I try Japanese food when I’m here, and Middle Eastern,” he says. “I love Rüya. Colin [Clague] is a great chef and it’s a great concept. I really like his food.”

Morimoto’s restaurant has been in the pipeline for three years and the team of chefs working in it have been hand-picked from his other ventures. The menu in Dubai also showcases the famous chef’s distinct culinary style – fusing Western and Asian ingredients with traditional Japanese cooking techniques.

“Our chef here [Miguel Huelamo] is very experienced in Spanish food,” Morimoto explains. “I’m like the conductor, yes I can make Spanish food, French food, Italian food, but I don’t have the deep foundations my different chefs have, so I work to their skills.”

Morimoto Dubai has a seasonal menu, too, with an ever-changing seafood list, and fish is mostly sourced from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji and Fukuoka fish markets. “I like to get fish from Japan, but it’s more about what’s in season,” he says. “I don’t mind where it comes from, as long as it’s the best. What’s good today is what’s important.”

And like many professional chefs, there’s no time for cooking in Morimoto’s personal life. “Do I cook at home? Zero,” he says firmly. “I cook for work, although not as much as I’d like nowadays, but in my private time I don’t want to even think about food, not sushi, not cooking it and not watching TV. I like to think about nothing.”

And speaking of which, he has never watched Iron Chef, the show he’s so famed for – a red-hot cooking battle that’s based around creating dishes using different ingredients each episode.

“Did I enjoy making the show?” he ponders. “Yes and no. People said I had an advantage, and I suppose that’s true, in that I did more than 100 battles, but I can’t cook the same thing every single time. It needs to be different. It’s quite stressful, but how many Iron Chefs are there in the world? Very few.

I feel honoured, and if someone says ‘I want to be a chef like Morimoto’ after watching it, it makes me very proud.”

And so he should be. Growing up in Hiroshima, Morimoto had grand plans of becoming a pro baseball player, but an injury put paid to those dreams and he turned his hand to cooking instead.

“Do you hear that?” he grins, clicking his injured shoulder. “I’m not from a wealthy family, so we couldn’t eat out a lot, but when we did, I used to think the sushi chefs were really cool. So when I was 18, I started to work in a sushi restaurant. Then opened my own restaurant in Japan.”
He then made the move to the US, and 33 years later, that’s the place he calls home, stating he loves the energy and excitement of New York.

“A lot of people ask, ‘where are you based?’ I say, ‘that’s a good question’”.

“My passport is from Japan, my wife and dog are in New York, but I’ve only spent two nights in my own bed this year. Last year it was only 65 nights in total all year. This planet, that’s my base.”

And with a date in Hawaii to open another new restaurant the week after we meet, it’s not looking like he’s going to be sitting still for very long, which is excellent news for foodies the world over.
Open Sun-Wed 6pm-2am;Thu-Sat 6pm-3am. Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai, Business Bay (04 512 5577).

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