After a recent whirlwind visit to Cape Town’s One&Only in celebration of a decade of his namesake restaurant Nobu, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa tells Upscale Living magazine why it’s important to do everything from the heart.
NOBU, CAN YOU RECALL WHEN YOU DEVELOPED A LOVE FOR CUISINE? WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE FOODS IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS?
When I was a child, I used to remember the tap-tap of the knife on the chopping board and the scraping of the pot against the burner as my Mum was preparing miso soup and pickled vegetables every morning. This is common in Japanese family cultures and each family has a slightly different recipe. My Mum made us good food and inspired me to do the same, she first sparked my interest in cooking.
YOU OPENED YOUR FIRST RESTAURANT IN 1987 IN BEVERLY HILLS. NOW NOBU IS A WELL-KNOWN BRAND ALL OVER THE WORLD. WHAT IS THE RECIPE (NO PUN INTENDED) FOR YOUR SUCCESS?
Nobu around the world is about good food and good service – one ingredient (no pun intended too) I feel is key to our success, is ‘Kokoro’, doing everything from the heart.
WHAT CAN PATRONS EXPECT WHEN DINING AT NOBU? HAVE YOU STANDARDIZED THE CULINARY EXPERIENCES THROUGHOUT THE 40 LOCATIONS WHERE YOUR RESTAURANTS ARE BASED, OR DO THEY DIFFER REGIONALLY AND SEASONALLY?
Guest experience is really important to me, especially our most loyal customers. Apart from these signature dishes though, I’m keen to always keep the rest of the menu moving and evolving so we have two sides to the menu – Nobu ‘classics’ and Nobu ‘now’. We also change our menus from city to city, based on what’s in season and can be sought out locally. As I travel almost ten months a year, I’m always learning about new techniques and ingredients, which continue to inspire new dishes.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR IN YOUR LINE OF WORK? I SUPPOSE PATIENCE IS ALSO A VIRTUE?
Humor in the kitchen is the same as any family. I am patient, but challenge the team fairly and will always believe it’s important to enjoy what we are doing or we lose the essence of why we are doing it in the first place.
YOU TURNED 70 IN MARCH – CONGRATULATIONS! ARE YOU STILL VERY HANDS-ON AT NOBU AND DO YOU BELIEVE THAT IT ADDS TO THE DINING EXPERIENCE WHEN PATRONS GET TO MEET YOU?
As our guests give thanks to me, it is equally important to greet and thank in return. Without our guests, Nobu would not be where it is today.
YOU MUST HAVE HAD SOME MEMORABLE GUESTS OVER THE YEARS – HAVE ANY OF THEM STOOD OUT FOR YOU? HAVE THERE BEEN NOT-SO-DELIGHTFUL GUESTS AND WHAT HAS THAT EXPERIENCE TAUGHT YOU?
No guest is the same. I have met many interesting people over the years, each with their own stories. I like to share my experiences, and this is how we as people learn, by sharing our stories.
ANY PEOPLE – FAMOUS OR NOT – THAT YOU WOULD STILL LIKE TO COOK FOR?
YOU HAVE A LONGSTANDING FRIENDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIP WITH ACTOR ROBERT DE NIRO; YOU CO-OWN THE NOBU RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS. WHAT MAKES THIS PARTNERSHIP WORK?
Bob started out as a Matsuhisa customer. He complimented the food saying it was incredible and asked if I ever wanted to open a restaurant in New York. At first, I said no, but he was persistent and the rest is history.
Bob is not only my business partner, but he is my family. We have a very good relationship as we share the same goals and vision for the business, which includes good food and good service, and this partnership has only gotten stronger throughout the years.
YOU PROBABLY SPEND A FAIR TIME TRAVELING. WHICH PLACES HAD LEFT LASTING IMPRESSIONS?
I travel for ten months of the year. Everywhere I travel, I experience new languages, unfamiliar smells, and new ingredients to incorporate into new dishes.
THIS IS NOT YOUR FIRST VISIT TO SOUTH AFRICA, SPECIFICALLY CAPE TOWN. WHAT WARMS YOUR HEART ABOUT THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY?
Each time I stay at the One&Only Cape Town, I experience what you could call ‘real’ South African hospitality. The warmth of the people is what makes each journey memorable and I take that with me when I leave.
PLANS FOR THE REST OF 2019?
I generally like to live in the moment as you never know what is around the next bend, but what I do know is that cooking is my whole life and I love seeing customers at Nobu restaurants all over the world eating, drinking, smiling and laughing. I’d love to continue bringing people joy through simple cooking that comes from the heart, as well as being there to support my staff and see them grow. I’m a strong believer that those who keep working hard to increase the quality of their offering and let things grow organically, will naturally have opportunities come to them.