He’s become famous for this unique fusion cuisine blending traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients, and those of you who have had the chance to visit Nobu Doha will know what we’re talking about when we say – his food is out of this world! FACT’S Badir Bechara caught up with the celebrity chef and the restaurateur himself, Nobu Matsuhisa, on his recent trip to the Four Seasons Hotel Doha…
Hi Chef Nobu! When did you first realise that you wanted to work in the food industry?
After a couple of year’s following my father’s death, my brother took me to a sushi restaurant. The experience turned out to be incredible. I remember the sliding doors and the energy of the place. I also remember vividly sitting on the sushi counter with my brother and ordering a couple of things from the menu. I could see the Chef preparing the dishes, cutting the ingredients, making the rolls – the whole atmosphere was beyond anything I have ever experienced. You have to understand that back in my days, sushi was a very high end food – expensive, not everybody could afford it. So, after I saw all that, I was wowed and I wanted to have that lifestyle.
What was the most important lesson you learned on your first job in the culinary world?
I started working when I was 18-years-old. I worked at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo for three years. During my time there I did everything except cooking. I used to go to the !sh market with my mentor, early in the morning, to pick up fresh fish; I washed the dishes, ran errands, and, basically, I started from the bottom. I would wake up at 5am and go to sleep around midnight, working the entire day. I never complained because I was determined to become a chef, I wanted to do this more than anything else. After three years I earned my place in the kitchen, learned how to slice !sh, and clean it. Now there are sushi schools everywhere, but back then the only way to become a sushi chef was learning on your own and looking at what others were doing. Having a mentor and working your way up.
What made you take that trip from Japan to Peru?
When I was a kid, I had two dreams in my life, one was to become a chef and the other one was to be like my father. My father travelled outside of Japan, so I wanted to do the same and see something different from Japan and experience a life in other countries. Every single time I would miss my father I used to look at pictures of him. One of the photos that always made a big impact on me was my father with the native people of Parao. I was always fascinated by this image. After six or seven years working in Tokyo, I met a man of Japanese and Peruvian origin. He was coming from Peru every year to Japan, and he would always tell me about the variety of fresh !sh that Lima has. Lima is very close to the Pacific Ocean, so there are many varieties of fresh fish. For me, that was very interesting, and besides there are many Japanese immigrants there. Then he offered me to open a restaurant in Peru. For me, Peru was the amazon so I could relate to this place thanks to that picture of my father.
What was your first impression of Peru?
Well, before I moved there to live and work, I went to check the place out, so I knew what I was getting myself into. At first it was kind of shocking because Peru was like 30 or 40 years behind Japan in terms of technology and other aspects. But the people were so nice. All the locals were very welcoming and warm and the country was so beautiful. It is funny because back in the day sushi wasn’t popular at all, people didn’t eat it, because it was so expensive. But lots of big companies from Japan were located there, so I used to get a lot of business from them. You also worked and lived in Anchorage, Alaska – that must have been a total adventure.
Tell us about your experience there…
It was a challenge indeed, a culture shock. I helped build the restaurant and put money into the project. Finally we did the grand opening night, it was a great party, a very big success. Everything was going well. After 15 days from the opening night, I was having my first day off and I was celebrating with the crew; we were so happy about what we had accomplished. Then, I received a phone call from my business partner telling me to get down to the restaurant because there was a fire. I told him that this was not a good time for jokes; today is my first day off since the opening. I realised that he was telling the truth, so I actually bolted out of the house – it was very scary. Alaska is a very small city, and in the winter time the nights are so cold and it is very dangerous. All of a sudden, I can see my restaurant burning down, my dream, my money, my efforts – it was absolutely devastating. This actually happened on thanksgiving Day, which crazily and coincidentally is today (we nod in disbelief!). For a long period of time I was besides myself, I felt so depressed and destroyed. But, eventually, I got back up again, thanks to my family.
How much of your time do you put into the management side of the business, on a global scale?
Maybe, for the last 10 years, I have travelled nine to 10 months a year – my home at the moment is in L.A. I go as much as possible to all the Nobu restaurants around the world, actually my CEO travels with me everywhere, so I’m focused on talking to the chefs, to see our signature dishes and make sure they are all meet brand expectations. And to try out new dishes too. I also check the quality of the !sh and how the team is working together, that’s very important to me, to know every single person of the team and make sure everything runs well. That’s my job while my C.E.O deals with the investors, partners, buyers and so on.
So, would are you a businessman or chef?
(Laughs) Definitely Chef!
Finally, what do you like cooking and eating at home?
I don’t care about gorgeous, over-the top meals. I actually like when my wife cooks for me, anything that she cooks for me like meat and !sh, I love it. But, the most important thing about home cooked meals is the love that you put in. Just the love.
GO Visit Nobu Doha at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha. Go to www.noburestaurants.com/doha or call 4494 8600 for reservations and more information.